Wednesday 7 June 2023
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, if there is a Division in the Chamber while we are sitting, this Committee will adjourn as soon as the Division Bells are rung and resume after 10 minutes.
Climate: Behaviour Change (Environment and Climate Change Committee Report)
Motion to Take Note
My Lords, if we are to achieve climate and environmental goals and wider benefits for society such as better health, greater energy security and sustainable prosperity, changing our behaviour is essential. Successive Governments have made welcome progress in reducing emissions through technological innovation and changes in energy supply, but far less attention has been paid to making it easier for people to switch to new products and services, and to reduce consumption.
Drawing on the Climate Change Committee’s assessment, our first Select Committee report identified that 32% of UK emission reductions by 2035 require decisions by individuals and households to adopt low-carbon technologies, choose low-carbon products and services and reduce carbon-intensive consumption. One-third of our emission reductions require us as individuals to act. Encouragingly, there is widespread public concern about climate change and a desire for action. We cite government polling showing that 85% of the public are “concerned” or “very concerned” about climate change, but the evidence is that the majority of people lack awareness of the most effective actions that they can take to reduce the impacts of climate change. It means that people need a clear vision now of what they can do about how we travel and heat our homes, and what we consume, including what we eat and waste. The barriers to making those changes—cost, convenience and availability—need to be addressed. This requires action and leadership from government. We found that the Government’s approach is inadequate to meet the scale and urgency of the challenge. Although they have refreshed their net-zero strategy since our report, their approach, Powering Up Britain, to enable behaviour change remains exactly the same. We outline that the Government need to do three things.
First, they should use every lever at their disposal, by which we mean regulation, fiscal incentives and disincentives, adapting the individual’s choice environment and providing powerful informational tools. The importance of using every lever echoed the findings of the 2011 Science and Technology Committee’s inquiry into behaviour change. To be clear, the Government have taken some important decisions, including phasing out the sale of new petrol and diesel vans by 2030, but not across all high-emission areas—including helping to cut waste from our homes. We have had government consultations on introducing consistent collections for household and business recycling, on an extended producer responsibility scheme for packaging and on a waste prevention programme. But there has been no government response, despite all three consultations closing more than two years ago.
I ask the Minister: when will the Government act to help cut the mountains of waste in our homes? Not enough has been done to tackle the high carbon emissions from our 27 million homes. Not enough is not nothing, and our committee has taken a keen interest in how the Government are seeking to pump-prime the market for heat pumps as a means of bringing costs down with stretching targets and the boiler upgrade scheme. However, while we welcome the Government’s intentions and that they listened to some of our recommendations to strengthen the boiler upgrade scheme, barriers around awareness, cost and finding trusted installers remain.
Secondly, we need to enlist the public. Sir Patrick Vallance told us that
“individuals need to know what is expected of them and what they can do”.
The Government have provided online energy advice to the public, which, since our report, has been supplemented by a welcome £18 million energy advice campaign, “It All Adds Up”. However, given the urgency of consumer action and the comparisons with personalised advice services available in other countries, we were left underwhelmed. We saw no evidence of delivery on two of the Government’s six net-zero principles, namely,
“to motivate and build public acceptability for major changes and to present a clear vision of how we will get to net zero and what the role of people and business will be”.
We called for a public engagement strategy to be developed —a call echoed by the right honourable Chris Skidmore MP in his subsequent independent review of net zero.
It is good that the Government have now said that they will set out further details on how they will increase public engagement on net zero. I ask the Minister: will they do so in a strategy, like the Scottish Government’s public engagement strategy for net zero, and consult on it, as the Welsh Government have just done on their draft strategy? As part of increasing that public engagement, will he commit to using climate citizen assemblies, given that the evidence from those forums, including the House of Commons in 2020, is that when the problems and solutions are exposed to members of the public, they are largely supportive of making the changes needed?
Thirdly, we need to help people cut high-carbon activities, such as flying, where technologies are currently insufficient or underdeveloped. The Government soundly rejected the approach we took, arguing that they will go
“with the grain of consumer choice”.
France’s then Minister for Ecological Transition, Barbara Pompili, told us of their approach to help people cut the number of flights with a ban on short-haul domestic flights under two and a half hours. In contrast, our Government, with their techno-optimism, are pinning all their hopes on new fuels, whereas we conclude that the Government should launch a call for evidence on introducing a frequent-flyer levy on long-haul flights. That could make a meaningful contribution to emission reductions as well as meeting public support for fair measures to address them.
Delivering this behavioural change requires working alongside other institutions and organisations in a more collaborative way than existing government structures and intentions support, especially local authorities, which, due to their proximity to households, active civil society and faith groups, and their ability to tailor place-based solutions, are in a key position to help deliver the green transition, yet the evidence we received identified that they lack the necessary powers and resources to do so. Our report welcomed the creation of the local net-zero forum to support partnership working between national and local government, although there have been reports in recent months that it has been hard to get Ministers to attend. How do the Government plan to enable the necessary net-zero and environmental behaviour changes that local authorities are best placed to deliver, while providing them with limited funding and support?
The Government’s approach to behaviour change, with their mantra of going with the grain of consumer choice, is out of step with science, which demands urgent action. It is also out of step with public support for government leadership, and with the opportunities to grow net-zero services, products and, critically, the jobs of the future. Clearly, it is driven by political imperatives. Part of that is the cost. Overcoming the upfront barriers requires subsidies, with the accompanying case for taxes, which for some is the ultimate in coercive intrusion into personal choice—never mind, as the noble Lord, Lord Stern, reminds us, that the cost of climate action is far outweighed by the cost of inaction.
Part of the problem is that behaviour change for the climate requires collective action and building community infrastructure, such as better public transport, which smacks to some of enlarging the state and shrinking the private space of individuals. Part of it, too, is the fear of it being pulled out of the nanny state, when in fact, choosing not to regulate markets means that you allow companies with no interest in societal roles to shape social norms and choices. It is the opposite of strong government, let alone delivering climate justice, given that going with the grain of consumer choice means consumers have the liberty to do what they want but the resulting impact of climate change will mean suffering for others.
Our report drew on behavioural science, the evidence of what works and the responses from over 150 individuals and organisations to our call for evidence. We thank them for that, the Government for their engagement and our staff, Connie Walsh, Laura Ayres and Oli Rix, with the support of POST fellow Jo Herschan and our specialist adviser, Professor Lorraine Whitmarsh. We are also thankful for the insights from our youth engagement programme, from the six schools: Stockton Riverside, Birkenhead School in Liverpool, Grove Academy in Dundee, Ulidia Integrated College in Northern Ireland and Ysgol Cwm Brombil in Port Talbot. We thank them all for the insights they gave us. I also thank the committee members, many of whom are here today, and look forward to hearing what they have to say. It is invidious to call out one person from whom one is particularly looking forward to hearing, but I must point to the noble Lord, Lord Rees, who speaks so knowledgeably on science, politics and ethics: the three things that intersect at the point of our report. I beg to move.
My Lords, this is a very interesting report about people’s motives and communications, from a very distinguished committee, which many of us have read with great interest. My only regret is that there is a certain coyness in the report about cost—the cost of buying into the green energy transition. You may say, “What about cost?”. The point is that costs and savings are the decisive behaviour issue for most people when they have to look at their budget and decide how much to spend and by how much they will be supported from outside.
Of course, it is all okay for the wealthiest 10%—that, we know. They have enough cash to install ground heat pumps or air heat pumps and hope that they will perform and be efficient. That is no great skin off their nose and no great challenge because they have the money. That is for the 10%, but for the other 90%—not just the poorest end but practically every family in the land, certainly throughout the middle and lower-income groups—it is not like that at all. They are dealing with a budget where every penny counts and having to embark on new expenditure and decisions such as this for their homes, small businesses or whatever, is quite a different proposition.
I declare an interest in that I advise Mitsubishi Electric in Europe, one of the biggest producers of heat pumps and air-conditioning. It is working very hard to bring down the cost of this machinery, particularly heat pumps, making them more amenable and accessible for those living in flats, apartments and so on, and making them more efficient in delivering the heating, comfort, hot water and so on that people want. It has some way to go.
The report states, very frankly, that there is “limited understanding” of this whole area. That is certainly true and it applies particularly to the confusion in the public mind, which is aggravated by disgraceful media coverage claiming that decarbonising the present electricity sector is the answer to everything. One gets ridiculous headlines in the newspapers on days when wind power supplies 100% of our electricity, saying that that has solved the problem—“We’ve decarbonised; no need to worry”—so people sit back, unaware that that is only a tiny part of the decarbonisation process. Last year, the electricity sector accounted for 18% of our total energy usage, so the other four-fifths—the other 81% or more—of fossil fuel energy has to be decarbonised. We have hardly started; this is just the foothills. What about the other 80%? This is a gigantic new area, which will require vast low-carbon investment in nuclear power and wind, as well as a virtually new national grid.
My simple message today with this excellent report is that people need to understand the scale of what is to come and how little distance we have gone, and they should understand who is going to pay, whether it is taxpayers again, who are already pressed, or the wretched consumer—one of the Government’s ideas is that the consumer will pay for the new Sizewell C reactor.
My own preference would be that we should give far more effort to mobilising private investment—billions or trillions under management in pension funds are presently going abroad—and injecting that into the vast new expenditure needed so that people can make safe decisions that mean they will not bankrupt themselves and their families by rushing into new projects which are not proven. That is the reality. Cost will guide the decisions and behaviour of most people. The more we understand that and the more we explain where the cost will be covered, the better chance we have—I think we will get there—of achieving our NZ goals.
My Lords, I had the pleasure of joining the Environment and Climate Change Committee after its work on the report on behaviour change was completed. However, I have read the report and absolutely concur with its findings, very ably articulated today by our excellent chair, the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter.
The report makes it clear that behaviour change is one part of the necessary toolbox to achieve our net- zero target by 2050. Government policies and fiscal incentives can go only so far. There has been a lot of talk of hectoring and compulsion, of the danger of pushing through policies against the wishes of the people, but there is huge public support for actions to tackle climate change. As the ONS report makes clear, 64% of adults say they are worried about the impact of climate change, and 59% feel that this and the environment are among the top issues concerning voters today. People want to do the right thing. What they lack is a clear road map to make the necessary changes in their lives in the most cost-effective way.
Leadership and direction need to come from the top, but when did Rishi Sunak last make a meaningful contribution on the need to tackle climate change? He is remembered mostly for turning up late and leaving early at COP 27.
And using helicopters. He is increasingly pandering to the anti-green faction on his own Back Benches, who put fossil fuels before green energy.
This lack of government leadership and awareness of the scale of the challenge was reflected in the response to the committee’s report. It is, by any measure, disappointing. It refers to a plethora of policies and strategies which we know are not being enacted effectively. This failing is clearly demonstrated in our report in relation, for example, to the delays in the boiler upgrade scheme, which we will debate at a later date.
The government response to the committee also fails to grasp the need for greater co-ordination and leadership across departments to provide the public with a clear narrative about the road to change. Yet when Grant Shapps recently gave evidence to our committee, it became clear that net-zero policies were still not a priority for some of his colleagues.
The government response to the committee also failed to recognise the huge benefits in delivering behaviour change in partnership with civil society, local government and business groups. This is particularly important given that the BEIS public attitudes tracker shows that the UK Government are now one of the least trusted sources of accurate information about climate change, so working with other, more trusted partners is key.
On key policy areas, such as aviation and food production, there was a marked reluctance to intervene, yet we know that individuals will have to make difficult choices in these areas if we are to have any hope of reaching our targets.
Since our report was published, Chris Skidmore MP has published his impressive net zero review, which examined how the UK could better meet its net-zero targets in a changing world. He identifies that huge economic opportunities of clean technology could be taken if we moved quickly and acted decisively. But his report echoes the themes of our report. He emphasises that the Government need to ramp up engagement with the public by publishing a public engagement strategy this year, and he proposes the creation of a carbon calculator to provide consumers with better information to make informed decisions on their carbon footprint.
As the evidence for a proper behaviour change strategy stacks up, I hope that the Minister will feel able to give a more positive welcome to our report’s recommendations in his response.
My Lords, our behaviour can adapt at the required pace only if government itself provides the right policy framework and puts the appropriate incentives in place—and that, I regret to say, is not happening.
The majority of carbon emissions in the UK, as we all know, stem from road transport and from heating 30 million homes and buildings. The number of EVs is rising fast and outpacing a charging network which is haphazard and unreliable—viz the recent queues over the holiday at motorway service stations. Range anxiety will not dissipate until a charge point is as quickly and easily accessed as a petrol pump. We need a comprehensive national plan to ensure that, wherever you travel and wherever you live, whether in a tower block, a terraced street, or a country village, a charge point is readily and reliably to hand. When will we have such a plan?
We have the oldest housing stock in Europe—poorly insulated and heated overwhelmingly by gas. For most households, the cost of migrating away from hydrocarbons to effective insulation, which is vital, and a heat pump is prohibitive. How will government transform the incentives —making electricity far cheaper than gas, for instance? When will the Government deliver on the challenge that they set themselves in the 2021 strategy to
“make the green choice the easiest”
“make the green choice affordable”?
Precisely how much electricity do the Government forecast we would need if by 2040 we were successfully to decarbonise transport and heating? Where is the analysis underpinning the “doubling” current need assumption in the Powering Up Britain plan published earlier this year? If it exists, will it be published? Where is the plan for, and what is the cost of, the massive upgrade of our electricity distribution network that such extra demand would require?
Powering Up Britain would not pass muster in any decent boardroom in Britain, for it is full of headlines but largely devoid of analysis and assessment—for instance, of the economics of hydrogen or carbon capture, or clarity about what part both technologies might play. For hydrogen, yes, it would most likely be maritime and heavy rail freight on non-electrified lines —but what else? Mankind, as most here will agree, faces no greater nor more important challenge than net zero, but achieving that goal requires co-ordination right across Whitehall. I worked at the centre of government for six years, and I know just how hard it is to herd the cats and achieve integrated and holistic cross-departmental objectives.
If the UK is to play its part, we need appropriate machinery of government in place. It is plainly right to have an energy department, but I think it is wrong to assign it the lead responsibility for net zero. That can be achieved only by a muscular entity at the centre working hand in glove with all departments and with powerful analytical support evaluating competing technologies, assessing the economics, integrating planning, identifying the costs, and monitoring progress against detailed plans. Until we have such machinery in place—and I greatly regret to say this—we can have no confidence whatever that we are on a certain and optimal path to net zero, and all those many well intentioned individuals who want to play their part and change their behaviour will lack the opportunity to do so.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to be part of your Lordships’ committee under the excellent leadership of the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, and to present this report and debate it today. Many in your Lordships’ House will have seen the 2021 Hollywood film “Don’t Look Up”, which was written and directed by Adam McKay. It explores the world’s response to climate change through the metaphor of an asteroid hurtling towards the earth bringing destruction in its wake. The scientists and world leaders in the film have a way through the crisis, but only if the scientific facts are acknowledged and the world works together. As noble Lords may know, in the film the world fails that test spectacularly.
Each year brings fresh reminders of the reality of global heating in floods, fires, extreme weather events, natural disasters and rising sea levels. The IPCC continues to publish ever more solemn warnings to the world, including most recently that we are likely to see a 1.5 degree rise in average temperature in at least one year in this decade. The human consequences of climate change are seen in wars, migration, changing crop patterns and the loss of islands and coastal areas. The burden falls most on the poorest and those who have historically used the least in terms of carbon, yet still we do not listen.
Our inquiry confirmed that public concern about climate change is rising. We confirmed that the population is looking for guidance on how best to respond in the key areas of diet, travel, home heating and transport, but we also confirmed that the tools are not in place, the leadership is uncertain and co-ordination is lacking, so our report calls for a serious, committed and joined-up campaign of public engagement and information to create the appetite for and support behaviour change. We have not yet seen a convincing response. This is a relatively small step forward, but something only government can do to encourage the whole sector.
The United Kingdom has become in some areas a world leader in combating climate change with ground-breaking legislation and policies. I appreciate and welcome all that the Government are doing across a range of fields. There are many other actors in this space. My diocese of Oxford has set aside a very large sum to engage with net-zero work on more than 400 vicarages. We have more than 800 church buildings and almost 300 schools. We are on a pathway to net zero by 2035, and we have a vision that every local congregation will be an agent of change in its own community.
However, this report demonstrates very clearly that this is a battle which must be waged on a number of fronts in a co-ordinated way. To use the title of another recent film, we need to be doing everything, everywhere, all at once.
We now have a very narrow window to respond to this emergency. In 10 years’ time, the choices facing the world and our successors in this House will be very different from those we face today if we do not act. The Government’s review, conducted by Chris Skidmore, reached very similar conclusions to our behaviour change report on public engagement and leadership and policy to support behaviour change, yet we still have seen very little action. Will the Minister say when the Government’s energy and leadership in this area of behaviour change will match the scale of the crisis which we face?
My Lords, it was a privilege for me to serve on the committee, even though it was a pain for its other members to have me on it, since I voted against this report. I will explain why.
Our starting point was that there are two ways to achieve net zero, both potentially necessary. One is to adopt carbon-free technologies, and the other is to adopt more frugal lifestyles, reducing the demand for carbon. The committee decided to investigate how great a role lifestyle changes could play in meeting net zero and how to motivate people to adopt them. Our call for evidence explicitly defined “behaviour change”, for the purposes of this inquiry, as
“the lifestyle changes that may be required by individuals, households, and communities”.
We did not seek evidence about adopting carbon-free technologies such as electric vehicles or heat pumps since, by definition, if they are good replacements for the present fossil-fuelled technologies, they require no behaviour change.
So we invited witnesses to give evidence about lifestyle changes, like driving less, walking or cycling more, flying less, eating less meat and shunning fast fashion. Many witnesses, and some committee members, were keen on these lifestyle changes, for reasons quite independent of reducing carbon emissions. They believe, no doubt correctly, that more frugal lifestyles would be good for our bodies and souls. That appeals to puritans, to those who love bossing people around and to eco-warriors who want us to regress to the pre-industrial world.
An early draft of our report criticised government for a lack of leadership and suggested restricting the number of flights that anyone might make. I proposed that the committee should demonstrate leadership by pledging to limit ourselves to two flights per annum. This was rejected out of hand—lifestyle changes are for them, not us. None the less, the committee was all set to proclaim that, without major lifestyle changes, Britain cannot reach net zero. Our draft criticised government for relying too much on technology change and too little on behaviour change.
Then came the inconvenient truth. We discovered that the Government’s official advisory body, the Climate Change Committee, said that 90% of the carbon reductions on the path to net zero could be achieved by adopting carbon-free technologies. A mere 10% of carbon reduction required lifestyle changes, particularly
“a shift in diets away from meat and dairy products”,
as well as reductions in waste, slower growth in flights and reductions in travel demand. Suddenly, the huge role we had imagined for behaviour change was reduced to something pretty insignificant. So what did the committee do? It voted to exclude any mention of the 10% figure, even in a footnote. I repeat: it voted to exclude that information. I wait for other members of the committee to justify that.
We needed a big figure to get a good headline, so we asked our excellent clerks to conjure up a larger figure over the Summer Recess, however loosely associated with behaviour change. They duly returned with two numbers: 63% and 32%, both of which appear in the final report. The 63% includes savings from carbon capture and storage, a fact omitted from the report, since no one would seriously associate that with behaviour change. The 32% figure mentioned by our excellent chairman as relying on savings that are the result of voluntary changes includes contributions from electric cars and heat pumps, which people will have no option but to buy from the 2030s onwards.
The justification that I was given for redefining “behaviour change” to include these technologies was that range uncertainty and recharging times require complex journey planning that is inconvenient, and heat pumps will likely leave you needing to wrap up warm in winter. That is doubtless true, but it is obviously not mentioned in the report, lest we provoke opposition to electric vehicles and heat pumps.
I have the highest respect for my noble colleagues’ integrity and sincerity, but, instead of producing evidence-based policy proposals, this report is an exercise in policy-based evidence selection. Inconvenient truths were deliberately suppressed, definitions were changed deliberately to mislead, and evidence was cited for which we had not carried out any investigations. However noble the cause, this is not the way that this House should go about producing its reports.
My Lords, it was a pleasure to serve on the Environment and Climate Change Committee for close to two years, during which time the evidence was laid and this report was published. It was a distinct pleasure to serve under the excellent, able and inclusive chairmanship of the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter. It was also a pleasure to work with the excellent staff and advisers who we had in this inquiry—too many to name; I am conscious of my time.
I must say that, having looked at the list of possible speakers, I had hoped that I would not be in the position of having to follow the noble Lord, Lord Lilley. We had very good-natured and interesting debates between us in the course of this inquiry. I really wanted to make another speech, but I cannot resist the temptation. Over a lot of our time together on the committee, I tried to persuade the noble Lord that, for example, my family’s decision to change from a petrol-driven car to an electric vehicle was a lifestyle change, and one whose consequences caused us to make other lifestyle changes. Because of the limited range of the vehicle, we changed the way in which we drove it—indeed, whether we drove it at all. We made distinct changes to the way in which we travelled. I cannot guarantee that I will not make any more than two flights in a year, but I have not yet made two this year. I travel less by carbon-fuelled vehicles and more, happily, by public transport, which is electrified, including trains where I live. These changes, like those of many of my friends and colleagues, have encouraged other lifestyle changes. For example, because we have solar panels on our roof, we make hay while the sun shines. We change the time at which we do certain things and therefore try to use only carbon-free energy if we can.
I could never convince the noble Lord that that was lifestyle change, that the technology was driving lifestyle change and that people’s decision to adopt this technology was not so that they could continue to live as they had but to change and live a more carbon-free lifestyle. I do not think that I ever will convince him. That is, I think, why he was in a minority of one in relation to the point that he made. The last time that we debated this issue, the noble Lord made an almost-identical speech. I was pleased to see that it got quite good coverage in certain media the next day; I suspect they may have been briefed in anticipation and I hope that they have been again today, so that this can be published. The fact of the matter is that, in the committee, all but one of us agreed that the report was a reflection of the evidence that we had heard and that the statistics that we quoted—and shared by the Government—reflected the reality.
I am almost out of time, but I had hoped to make one point, which I will make by referring to another report. We have already heard of the Chris Skidmore independent review, which the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, referred to. There is an important conclusion in that report, which I came to in the course of listening to the evidence and being on this inquiry. The review by Chris Skidmore echoes a point that was made in the committee’s report about local action being the key to the delivery of net zero. His review highlighted:
“Taking a more locally led, place-based approach can deliver a net zero transition with more local support, better tailoring to local needs, and bring economic and social benefits”.
Having heard the overwhelming evidence that I did in this context, I have come to the conclusion that the future for net zero relies on activating our communities to work in that way to challenge these issues, that we should do this with the support of civic society and local government, and that the Government should enable that.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate and thank the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, and her committee for this important and topical report. I warmly commend the recommendation to develop a public engagement strategy to inform the population about the need for greater behavioural change and greater awareness of the risks.
So-called climate anxiety has taken centre stage. I say this as a parent of four young ones, who are all acutely conscious that the seemingly inevitable climate crisis is here and that the ambition of maintaining and restricting global warming to less than 1.5 degrees is now, sadly, beyond our reach, with several leading scientists forecasting that—I stress—without significant efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, global average temperatures could rise by between 2.5 and 4.5 degrees Celsius, with catastrophic implications.
There is no denying that by adopting more sustainable behaviours we can mitigate some of the worst effects of climate crisis, reduce the depletion of resources and promote environmental well-being. Reducing the information gap around individual carbon footprints is essential. It is important to understand that being climate positive does not just mean driving an electric car and switching off the lights when you leave home. I welcome the Department for Education’s initiative to promote sustainability and to focus the climate change strategy on children and businesses. Indeed, we recently had a Topical Question on what can be done to improve the awareness of SMEs so that they embrace the ambition of getting down to zero carbon.
Transportation accounts for only 29% of global emissions. The largest contributor is the built environment, which accounts for a staggering 40%. The challenge is now how we can change the narrative around which personal decisions and behaviours can truly move the needle. I welcome the Government’s commitment to spend over £6.6 billion to improve energy efficiency and the decarbonisation of heating in homes. New carbon capture and storage technologies, smart grids, sustainable agriculture solutions and carbon removal technologies can all play an important role, but for these technologies to be effective we need supportive policies. We need more investment and collaboration among the stakeholders. As the noble Lord, Lord Howell, mentioned, climate-friendly appliances such as ground source heat pumps can reduce one’s individual carbon footprint, but they continue to be significantly more expensive than gas-powered alternatives, with a huge upfront cost.
Amid a cost of living crisis, I welcome initiatives such as the ECO+ scheme to incentivise the implementation of these technologies. I am a great advocate of the circular economy and I welcome a change in this paradigm, with materials flowing back into the economy, where they can increase our productivity. What are the Government doing to work with organisations such as the Carbon Disclosure Project, which is gathering information around the constitution of our economy’s carbon footprint? How can they encourage further monitoring?
In conclusion, while I warmly welcome the report and the public engagement strategy, its effectiveness will depend on an approach of shared, joined-up thinking between Governments, businesses, local authorities, civil society and individuals. As with the US Inflation Reduction Act, we need to think bigger, think bolder and act now.
My Lords, I congratulate the chairman and those who served on the committee on their excellent report and their work, and the experts who contributed. I declare my interests on the register—mostly that I am honorary president of National Energy Action. The noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, ably set out why the report is so important—the need to change behaviour and especially how we heat our homes, what we eat and how we can, I hope, rely on government advice to help us in that regard. I am not asking my noble friend to take up the role of nanny, which would not be welcome, but the Government should provide certain parameters.
I should like to draw some parallels with water. After the terrible floods of 2007, where surface water appeared substantially for the first time, there was the Pitt review. Most of its recommendations have been implemented, though not all. There was the Kay review on competition, which was brought into effect—apart from the recommendations on household competition. Then there was the Walker review. Perhaps because she was the only woman to have contributed to this trio, nothing ever happened about its proposals on water efficiency. The link between water efficiency and energy efficiency is close and I hope that it will come out of this report on an ongoing basis. However, it was disappointing that that issue was not progressed at the time of the Walker review.
The chairman of the committee and others have referred to transport, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Birt. I am not going to change any time soon to an e-vehicle because there are simply no means of charging it in rural parts of the north of England. We must address—my noble friend Lady Vere was kind enough to reply on this—the dearth of power points in rural areas. The other confusion on the part of manufacturers is: why should everyone be encouraged to change to electric vehicles when, at the same time, we are told that hydrogen is coming on stream? Which is it? As an MEP, I was heavily involved with the car industry when it made a massive, world-changing investment in diesel. Now we are being told that from 2030 we can no longer buy petrol or diesel cars.
I should like to refer briefly to electricity companies behaving badly. The unit charge we can control but the standing charge that goes to the distributors is something over which we have no control whatever. I hope my noble friend the Minister will look closely at the fine of £9.8 million imposed on SSE by Ofgem for overcharging the National Grid at a time when it was asked to produce less electricity when it should have been clear, as Ofgem said, that SSE was violating its licensing conditions. That is unacceptable. We each are paying 3% on our electricity bills for renewables. If the electricity companies are going to behave badly, that is not good enough.
I welcome the fact that the Government are looking to have more food produced locally, especially food meeting high environmental and animal welfare standards but, please, can these be reflected in international free trade agreements? Currently they are not in the agreements with Australia and New Zealand.
To conclude, we need clear guidance for waste collection and all these other issues to achieve the core theme of the report—behavioural change is in our hands—but with a clear steer from the Government.
My Lords, I have sympathy with my noble friend Lord Browne and hope he does not feel that he drew the short straw in his place on the speakers’ list. I am at risk of endangering my four minutes but, to carry on the film analogies that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford began, the noble Lord, Lord Lilley, reminds me of “Last Tango in Paris”.
For those of us who have not seen this film, it is very lewd, with a particularly interesting scene involving butter. I would suggest that, if noble Lords are of a nervous disposition, they do not watch it. I saw it in Edinburgh many moons ago and, halfway through the butter scene, the lady in the front row, who had a pearls and twinset look about her, leapt to her feet and shouted, “Filth, pure filth!” Then she sat down and watched the rest of the film right through to the end. The noble Lord, Lord Lilley, is a bit like that, but he is still with us, and we very much value him on the committee.
I absolutely believe that the noble Lord, Lord Browne, is right that behaviour change includes technology adoption. If we do not get the mood music right for the public in adopting new technologies, anything that deters them in terms of ease or price signals will stop them doing the right thing.
The thing that staggered me about this inquiry, which was excellently chaired by the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, our wonderful chairman, was the strength of feeling among the public. They were very clear that they wanted to know what the highest priorities were, what they could do about them and what the Government were going to do to make it cost effective, affordable and easy for them to change their behaviour. People were very clear. We know what the four priorities are, so we could in fact tell them that they are about travel, eating, purchasing, and heating and fuelling our houses. But the Government were not keen to meet the public expectation that they were clear about—that they would take a leadership role in being clear about those priorities and say what they should do in each of those four areas. In fact, we were very firmly told that the Government were going to go with the grain of public behaviour.
So we need a strategic approach. Above all, as well as removing barriers by means of incentives, pricing schemes, regulation and other mechanisms, we need a proper marketing strategy. We spend less on this highest global priority in marketing what we want to happen and what the public want us to tell them should happen than Apple does in marketing its next global product. We have really got to get to the point where marketing and behaviour change are a fundamental part of the policy basket of instruments. I was incredibly upset by the evidence that we got from the Government Communication Service; it was underwhelming in the extreme, and we really have to look at what that service is all about.
Just to finish—because I am conscious of time—with a heart-warming story, there was a thing called Climate Assembly UK, from which we took informal evidence. This was a bunch of folk who were selected from across the UK public to represent all ages and stages, political views and socioeconomic backgrounds, but mostly to represent everything from climate change deniers and flat-earthers to folk at the opposite end of the spectrum—green geeks. They worked together for a year to develop a consensus on a programme of action to respond to climate change. It was amazing how much consensus had developed among that group. It was clear that they were calling for some simple actions and for government leadership in promoting them. I leave noble Lords with some of their propositions —to buy only two pieces of clothing a year; to have only one long-range flight every two years; and to have a meat-free Friday. I commend them to you, but most of all I ask the Minister to tell us what the Government’s strategy is for behaviour change and when we might see it.
My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend for her very patient and expert steering of this vital new select committee through its first major inquiry and for introducing this debate so effectively. The science on climate change is very clear, and staying below 1.5 degrees looks almost impossible already. The need for action is urgent, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford has said. The Climate Change Committee has made it clear that we will not reach net zero unless everyone plays their part with changes in the way we all live—behaviour changes. The noble Lord, Lord Lilley, has a rather surprisingly limited view of what behaviour change is—it is about how we live, which includes using different technology.
Given the crisis, the Government seem distracted, unable to focus with sustained attention, clarity or resources on what needs to be done. They say they want to reach net zero but are not putting in place what is required. I am glad to see the new department for net zero—DECC never should have been disbanded— but where are the game-changing policies in this area, in the way that China and now the US, with the Inflation Reduction Act to which the noble Lord, Lord St John, referred, and the EU are taking forward?
The Government say they want to tackle climate change, but they shy away from assisting the public to make the choices that would help to enable that, as my noble friend and others have said. The Government have a major role to play: pointing the direction, redirecting industry. Therefore, it is welcome that they have said no new fossil-fuel cars should be sold by 2030. That redirects the car industry; now that industry is falling over itself to develop electric models. But the Government also need to make sure that this is feasible by putting the infrastructure necessary in place for this—charging points, for example, as the noble Lord, Lord Birt, made clear. This enables behaviour change.
One of the things we heard was worry about fairness and ensuring that things were affordable, as the noble Lord, Lord Howell, mentioned. With the cost of living crisis and the economic consequences of Brexit and the pandemic, this further reinforces the need to invest in, for example, public transport. Housing was another area we examined. How are the Government ensuring that new houses meet certain standards, and what are they doing to bring forward the retrofitting of old building stock, in which people live their lives?
We heard quite a bit about heat pumps, despite what the noble Lord, Lord Lilley, indicated. On their implementation, we are far behind our neighbours on the continent—I was really surprised at the evidence we received as to how far they had gone. The grants for heat pumps nowhere near meet the cost of purchase and installation. The Government even have policies here where the perfect is the enemy of the good, by demanding that insulation, which is obviously worth while, goes alongside installation, further increasing the cost. If someone simply bought a gas boiler, they would not need to do that, and that needs to be examined.
As several noble Lords have said, Chris Skidmore has looked at whether the “guardrails”, as he puts it, are in place to meet the target of net zero by 2050. In terms of what the Government were doing to guide the population, we had to conclude that Chris Skidmore’s guardrails were pretty weak, even non-existent. I therefore look forward to hearing what the Minister says in his reply.
My Lords, I congratulate the Environment and Climate Change Committee and its chair, the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, on its report, In Our Hands: Behaviour Change for Climate and Environmental Goals. It clearly addresses the twin crises of climate change and nature loss, and the role of government—although we as a country are committed to net zero by 2050—and it refers to the Committee on Climate Change about behaviours, drawing on the CCC assessment that 35% of emissions reduction up to 2035 require decisions by individuals and households to adopt low-carbon technologies and choose low-carbon products and services, as well as reduce carbon-intensive consumption.
The report points out very clearly that the public are ready for leadership by the Government in this area, and the Government must do far more. It also speaks of the role of organisations in civil society and local authorities to work on this. Business can do a lot. I am an adviser to the Climate School, a wonderful initiative which trains employees in companies. When a company sets a goal of net zero by 2050, what does that mean to the employee and how can they understand the whole concept of climate change, net zero and what role they can play? Much more needs to be done on that. The report makes many recommendations about changing behaviour, including government needing to provide a positive vision and clear narrative. The information is not enough. It talks about fairness, which is absolutely true, and business having a critical role, and that is what I will focus on.
Of course, we have led the way by being the first country to legislate for reaching net zero with the Climate Change Act. In fact, 2019 marked the first year in which low-carbon electricity overtook fossil fuel power in the UK, and our offshore wind industry is respected around the world. In his wonderful report, The Economics of Biodiversity, Professor Sir Partha Dasgupta of the University of Cambridge says that nature is “our most precious asset” and that 1 million plants and animals are under threat of extinction. To quote my noble friend Lord Rees, an authority in this area,
“Our Earth is 45 million centuries old. But this century is the first when one species—ours—can determine the biosphere’s fate”.
I was privileged as president of the CBI to spend a lot of time at COP 26, where business played a much bigger role than ever before. An impact report from the goal 13 platform found that 79% of businesses believe that climate is a mega-trend and that 89% of businesses have at least one climate-related target. Almost two-thirds of FTSE 100 companies have committed to net zero by 2050. That is wonderful.
My noble friend Lord St John spoke about the circular economy. There is no better example of the circular economy than my own business and industry, brewing, where nothing goes to waste. A huge proportion of bottles are recycled to make bottles, spent yeast is used to make Marmite, spent grain is used for cattle feed, CO2 is captured and reused, and the water is treated and the effluent water reused.
Technology plays a major role, which the report refers to. At the University of Birmingham, of which I am chancellor, we developed the world’s first retrofitted hydrogen-powered train, which was up and running at COP 26 in Glasgow. His Majesty the King was on the train, as was our Prime Minister at the time.
We need to accelerate investment. There is a lot of investment, but we need to work much faster: we have not started building even one small modular reactor. We do not spend enough on R&D and innovation: only 1.7% of GDP, versus the USA and Germany, which spend 3.1% and 3.2% respectively. Climate finance has not been addressed enough in this report. A huge amount of private finance needs to be addressed. All this change and transition, including with homes, will lead to the creation of 240,000 new jobs, a lot of which will be in SMEs.
To conclude, we should be looking forward to COP 28, led by its president, Sultan Al Jaber, the business ambassador, Badr Jafar, and Razan Al Mubarak, the IUCN COP 28 champion. To cite the president, there is a lack of finance. Some four times the amount of finance is required than is available at the moment, and we need “a business mindset”, as he said. The scale of the problem requires everyone working in solidarity. We need partnerships not polarisation, and we need to approach this with a clear rationale and execute a plan of action.
My Lords, I join others in thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, for her chairmanship of the committee and for securing this debate. I was grateful to be asked to join the committee during this inquiry on the retirement of our well-beloved Lord Puttnam.
The report concludes that the Government’s performance concerning the behaviour change needed to secure net zero by 2050 is inadequate. It has since been echoed with reports from the Committee on Climate Change and the Chris Skidmore review of the net zero strategy. The size of the challenge cannot be overestimated. There must be no delay. The climate emergency is of such magnitude that the Government should respond in similar fashion as was necessitated by the pandemic, as in recommendations 7 and 8. The costs of everyday transition towards decarbonisation must be recognised, not shied away from, as the costs of doing nothing are far greater. That balance must be recognised by everybody.
The challenge includes tackling environmental degradation, as recognised in the Dasgupta review. The significance of behaviours—how we behave—as opposed to doing activities must be recognised, as it includes attitudes and values. The Government’s response did not really seem to get this point, sounding almost on the complacent side, claiming to be already responding to the challenge with their policies and measures. They agreed, in the Net Zero Growth Plan of March 2023, that:
“The public will play a key role in the transition”.
Yet they are still to recognise the importance of behaviours with a serious public engagement strategy, as in recommendation 3—allocating increased spending on communications with information and education, and making affordable choices available.
The Government responded last year to the climate emergency with an array of strategies across all sectors of the economy, but in a somewhat scattergun approach, as exampled in the 10-point plan, and without recognising the importance of co-ordination and consistency across government, which is a key focus for the Cabinet Office. A full public engagement strategy was recognised in the Skidmore review, most notably in three of his 129 recommendations: to expand public spending and public reporting on net zero; to publish a public engagement strategy this year; and to create an office for net zero delivery. Once again, the Government were somewhat complacent in their response, stating that they were already doing the task.
The Government must recognise that a full, rounded public engagement strategy involves a deliberative process and methods. They must engage with the challenges in delivering behaviour change interventions faced by local authorities, the devolved Administrations, civil society and business. The Government have necessarily tackled the decarbonisation of the power sector, yet they still have far to go in decarbonising transport, especially aviation and shipping. They also have much to undertake to address the deficiencies in the built environment, especially in the housing sector, notably energy-efficiency measures and future homes standards. A key indicator of progress is provided by the BEIS public attitudes tracker statistics. The size of the behaviour change needed is revealed in two contrasting statistics: 54% of homeowners do not believe they need any more insultation, which contrasts with a statement by the Climate Change Committee that around 60% of the measures needed to reach net zero require changes to public behaviour. Climate change has already resulted in deep challenges with adaptation requirements to society’s way of life.
Defra’s adaptation programme has yet to address many key areas. Can the Minister indicate when the Government might publish the national adaptation programme and confirm that it will address the full range of climate risks to the UK with mitigating measures? To join up these strategies and action plans, what approach are the Government taking in their own behaviour to ensure that their policies towards achieving climate and emergency ambitions are clear and consistent? It certainly is not easy being green.
My Lords, I thank the committee for its important and wide-ranging report and the Government for their response. Particularly welcome is the assumption of both documents’ recommendation 38 that if there is to be a change in individual behaviour it involves engagement with all sectors of society. I believe that behaviour change is brought about by two main factors: a shared vision of the kind of world we want and an appeal to what is in our interest. Recommendation 65 talks about
“a shared vision of net zero and environmental sustainability”.
I suggest that, as stated, this is more in the nature of a goal, which is good in itself, but that a shared vision goes wider than that. I think we would all agree that at its heart this is a moral issue, for it concerns the well-being of our children and grandchildren and, not least, those people living in parts of the world at risk from rising sea levels and increasingly severe floods and droughts. I also suggest that it is a spiritual issue, for it concerns humanity’s place on earth and our attitude to nature, whether it is one of exploitation irrespective of consequences or one of respect for and co-operation with natural processes.
Those of my generation have, on the whole, been terribly slow in responding to the challenge which has been put to us at least since the 1960s, some 60 years ago now. A combination of blindness, indifference and short-term interests has left us now with very little time to act. On the other hand, as we know, many young people care deeply about the planet and what is happening to it. It matters to them. They have a vision, a genuine, serious care for the earth and its future, and for many of them it is a kind of spiritual vision. Not many of them claim to have an official religion, but they see this as a spiritual matter.
In that connection, I wonder whether the Government, in their public engagement strategy, should not be making more of the role that the different major religions in our country could play on this issue. Although religion is not fashionable in the media, there are large and significant Muslim, Hindu and Sikh denominations, in addition to the Christian denominations. I was very glad to listen to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford about what is going on his diocese. I believe that, in their different ways, all religions could play an even more prominent role, not just in achieving a particular goal but, behind that, in giving people a spiritual vision of what it is to be human in relation to the rest of the earth and in shaping an attitude of respect for the environment. There is one brief reference to faith groups in the recommendations, but I should like to see more being done by the Government—perhaps a behind-the-scenes initiative by the departments for business and local communities. I believe that faith groups could have a greater role in fostering that attitude of respect and co-operation with nature, which is so essential for the future and which lies behind particular goals as an overall vision.
A shared vision of the kind of world that we want is one major factor for change; the other is an appeal to what is in people’s best interest. This means that the Government must not be frightened of using their power to change behaviour, by both regulation and financial incentives and disincentives, as set out in recommendation 15 and elsewhere. The Government have a responsibility to use the power that they have, for this is not just an individual private matter but about the good of all. Not least, they must not be frightened of using their power in relation to business. In particular, given the fact that business is driven by what it thinks of as its interest—often seen in very short terms—the Government have a clear responsibility to be aware of corporate lobbying, as mentioned in recommendation 18, and to counter false claims and half-truths, as set out in recommendation 63. Self-interest can be shaped and guided but, sometimes, short-term interest has to be thwarted, and there will be occasions when the Government must be very clear and firm in relation to business.
My Lords, it gives me great pleasure to take part in this debate and I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, on her chairing of this committee and the content of its inquiry. It is a novel and important subject, which really emphasises the importance of lifestyle and personal involvement.
Reading it through, I think the government response is rather sad, really. The Government seem to agree with everything the reports says, but say that they are doing it already and lots of money is being spent—that is about it. I do not think that is quite true. I am sad that there is not more discussion about the fuel duty and train fares debate. Obviously, the committee talked about net-zero air services—we have heard a few comments from noble Lords about that—and of course charging points, which we deal with quite often.
We need behaviour change, however. I want to concentrate my remarks on active travel, which is recommendation 32 in the report:
“The Government must deliver on its ambition to improve active travel infrastructure and local public transport systems by providing the necessary resources and supporting local government bodies to implement projects on the ground”.
Paragraph 64 of the Government’s response says:
“Government is investing more than ever before in walking and cycling”.
The National Audit Office has published, today, a report on active travel. The NAO says that the Government will miss all their targets for 2025 after years of stop-start funding. The report also reveals that there are new cuts of 20% year on year in revenue funding for active travel in 2023-24. This is the kind of money spent, for example, on Bikeability, which is training for school- children so that they can cycle more safely.
This comes on top of a three-quarter cut for dedicated capital spending, announced in March. It is good that the NAO supports active travel, but it says that there needs to be long-term ring-fenced funding to address its requirements. It goes on to say that those investments, which are quite small in transport terms, represent very high value for money—4.3:1—and contribute to many good targets in different departments. The sad thing is that it says that the Government will miss at least three of their four targets on active travel by 2025. These are increasing annual cycling stages and annual walking; increasing the percentage of children aged five to 10 walking to school; and increasing the percentage of journeys of under five miles in towns and cities that are walked, wheeled or cycled.
I could go on citing that NAO report for a long time and I hope noble Lords will read it—it has come out today. A statement in paragraph 64 of the response says:
“Government is investing more than ever before in walking and cycling”.
I am sure they can arrange for some figures to demonstrate that that is true, but it certainly is not enough and we need to be very careful and support the NAO and press the Government for some responses on this issue.
My Lords, Governments are torpid in their response to the climate threat. This is, of course, because its worst impacts will not be manifest until the second half of the century, beyond the time horizon of political and even investment decisions. We are like the proverbial boiling frog, contented in a warming tank until it is too late to save itself.
Most of us do care about the life chances of children and grandchildren who will be alive in 2100, but even well-intentioned individuals feel helpless. Politicians respond to pressure from voters, and voters are responsive not to scientists but to charismatic influencers. I shall highlight a disparate quartet of these—first, Pope Francis, through his 2015 encyclical; secondly, our secular pope, David Attenborough; thirdly, Bill Gates; and, fourthly, Greta Thunberg. Thanks to those personalities, public opinion has shifted. More people care and the rhetoric of business has changed. Climate has gained prominence on the political agenda.
To take a small example, Michael Gove, when at Defra, introduced legislation to ban non-reusable drinking straws. He would not have done this had not David Attenborough’s TV series alerted millions of voters to the downsides of ocean pollution. Likewise, the public would accept regulations that constrain our driving, flying and eating behaviour, and they would support measures to nudge industry towards the circular economy. For instance, buildings with short-intended lifetimes contain materials such as girders and piping that are re-usable. Better still, of course, is to use timber rather than steel, and there has been remarkable progress in timber-frame buildings.
Achieving a net-zero target is a major technological challenge—let us not forget that—but it is a realistic challenge that could be met not just by the UK, which contributes only 2% of the world’s emissions, but by all the countries of the prosperous global North. However—crucially—that is not enough. By 2050, there will be 4 billion people in the global South. Their individual per capita energy consumption is currently less than a quarter of ours, but they will suffer most from global warming and its effects on food production and water. If they gain prosperity, as we surely hope, they could collectively by 2050 be using more energy than the global North does today. If that energy comes from fossil fuels, the world could then be as far from net zero as it is today, and the prospects dire for all, but especially for equatorial nations. It is crucial, therefore, that these nations do not track our trajectory of economic development but leapfrog directly to clean energy, just as they have adopted smartphones without ever having landlines. This benign scenario requires renewables, energy storage and perhaps nuclear to advance technically and fall in cost.
We in the UK contribute only 2% of the world’s emissions, but we could have more leverage if we led a campaign to establish a kind of mega-Marshall plan to stimulate these developments, best of all by collaborating with other countries in the global north. This is perhaps a kind of foreign aid that the public may well endorse ungrudgingly, and it could be to our economic benefit too.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Rees of Ludlow, and his wise words. Like everyone else, I particularly congratulate my noble friend Lady Parminter, who I know feels that this area is very important, both in practice and in theory. I also congratulate the committee on its work. I congratulate too the Minister and the Government because the Minister has obviously been persuasive in that I have heard today that we have a net-zero objective for Ofgem, after many years of trying to persuade it. I was interested that Ofgem welcomed it, whereas, in the Energy Bill, we heard that it was against it—but there we are; it shows that things can change. I am sure that the Minister was very persuasive in that, so I thank him.
Coming back to the report, I echo very much the feelings and statements of many Members of this Grand Committee and this House that the overall view of the Government’s response is disappointing. Exactly as other noble Lords said, it goes through the list and says, “We’re doing it”, implying that they need to do no more—yet, in a way, it exposes those siloes of each of those areas within the department, not tying them together.
One of the things that we need to take into consideration—I do not think it was mentioned in the debate—is that, although we are being very successful, relative to the globe, at reducing our emissions, the vast majority of this so far has been because we have substituted gas for coal and, increasingly, renewables for gas. That has been easy because none of us have noticed it: we plug in our hairdryer, iron, washing machine or whatever, and they work just the same—we have not had to change anything whatever. Just maybe, despite the problems with the charging networks, we may have that opportunity with EVs as well, with the market and the convenience of EVs meaning that there can be a natural market change, like there was with iPhones, which we moved to without any persuasion from government. At that point, it gets a lot more difficult: we have to make changes that we will notice, which is why this report is so important.
I have great sympathy with what the noble Lord, Lord Lilley, said: technology will be an incredibly important part of this. But I do not think we know enough about that percentage split between behaviour and technology—he has obviously heard more evidence than me, and I am interested in that proportion. But, whatever it is, behaviour change will clearly be an important part of that mix, which is why I welcome that report. But, my goodness, we have to carry on with technology, which is why it is important that we get on with rejoining the Horizon programme now that we have the Windsor agreement. The noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, mentioned the appalling level of R&D expenditure —we need to get that up generally as well. We need help with that for the next stage of decarbonisation.
I was particularly interested to read about the models that might already exist. I like the pensions one, although it is nothing to do with net zero. The Government successfully put in a process that was not obligatory: it sort of happened, and you had to positively say no if you did not want it. It has been very successful. This is one of those areas where you think about the future—maybe 20, 30 or 40 years ahead—when you are normally not too bothered about it. Unfortunately, with carbon, we already have those challenges.
The climate assembly was particularly important, and I ask the Minister whether we can proliferate those assemblies because, as I understand it from speaking to committee members, whatever their background, they have become great advocates of the cause because they were persuaded by the facts. It is also important to have a positive message about climate change. One big problem—I fall into this category—is that we can be incredibly pessimistic about the future of this planet. We all know the challenges of meeting the 1.5 degrees target. However, we need positive messages and to involve communities in particular.
I always mention this, but some 310 local authorities have declared climate emergencies. While some of that may be cynical or done just because it is fashionable, most of those authorities want to implement climate policies, but because of the incredible constraints on local authority expenditure and because those policies are not statutory requirements they tend not to happen much. That is one of the areas that we have to change. There should be more community and district heating schemes. My wife is a member of a parish council and has taken on the role of climate and nature advocate, but she has had to travel down the learning curve like thousands of others in similar positions. We are not spreading that knowledge.
Regulation is usually positive. Biodiversity net gain is a recent example and I congratulate the Government on that, but a main question around environmental regulation is enforcement. It is weak in the UK at the moment. We have been too slow on housing regulation, as others have mentioned.
I say to my noble friend that the one area about which I was slightly disappointed—it was mentioned also by the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria—was the biodiversity crisis, which is not mentioned a great deal in the report, and yet, although connected to climate change, is an equal challenge.
To conclude, we and the Government—this country—are able to show the leadership in this area that we have done as regards technology in terms of delivering on climate change. This should be one or our national missions globally, to be the place that shows that behavioural change is important, can work and can ease all the difficult political decisions that our colleagues at the other end of this building have to make to bring forward this agenda. What I would ask the Minister most is to come back to a strategy of public engagement. We do not have that and are not near it. Chris Skidmore has said that it is essential. Where are we on that? What will its content be? Will it be anything like this excellent report?
My Lords, I begin by also thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, and the other members of the committee for producing a thorough and focused report. I was not a member of the committee but will set out my observations on its key findings and recommendations, and the Government’s response. No doubt, the Minister who follows me will tell me whether I have got it right.
Behavioural change is essential if we are to achieve climate and environmental goals and deliver wider benefits. The Government’s current approach to enabling behavioural change to meet climate and environmental goals is inadequate to meet the scale of the challenge. I draw on the Climate Change Committee’s assessment, which identified that 32% of emissions reductions up to 2035 require decisions by individuals and households to adopt low-carbon technologies and choose low-carbon products and services, as well as reduce carbon-intensive consumption.
While the Government have introduced some policies to help people adopt new technologies, these have not been replicated in other policy areas. There has been progress in some areas, but not all—the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, mentioned electric cars.
There is a reluctance to help people to cut carbon-intensive consumption. Time is not on our side, and there is too great a reliance on as yet undeveloped technologies. A quote that I liked in the report was from Sir Patrick Vallance, who said:
“Dreaming that something brand new will appear and save us by 2050 is not sensible”.
Priority behaviour change policies are needed in the areas of travel, heating, diet and consumption to enable the public to adopt and use green technologies and products and reduce carbon-intensive consumption. Polling shows that the public are ready for leadership from the Government in this space. The Government should provide clarity to individuals about the changes we need to make in how we travel, what we eat and buy and how we use energy at home, and they should articulate the many co-benefits to health and well-being of taking those steps.
A public engagement strategy, both to communicate a national narrative and to build support for getting to net zero is urgently required, but information is not enough to change behaviour. The Government need to play a stronger role in shaping the environment in which the public act through appropriately sequenced measures including regulation, taxation and the development of infrastructure. A behavioural lens must be applied consistently across all government departments, as too many policies, from planning and building standards to advertising regulations, are still encouraging high-carbon and low-nature choices. As the country faces a cost of living crisis, the Government must tailor behaviour change interventions to avoid placing a burden on those who can least afford it—a fairness clause. They must also work with the many groups and organisations at different levels of society which have a critical role in securing behaviour change for climate change and the environment. Behaviour change interventions will not be effective nor consistent unless existing structures for the cross-government co-ordination of climate and environment policy are overhauled and made more transparent and accountable to Parliament and the public.
The Government have responded. In September 2022, the Government were under Liz Truss. The one thing that she achieved during her premiership was commissioning Chris Skidmore to lead an independent review of net zero. The purpose of the review was to determine an affordable and efficient approach for the UK to fulfil its net-zero commitments, specifically an approach that was pro-business, pro-enterprise and pro-growth, which I have no doubt members of the committee would welcome. In January 2023, the review’s findings were published in the report, Mission Zero: Independent Review of Net Zero. The review praised the UK for the steps that it had taken towards achieving net zero. However, it warned that the Government, industry and individuals needed to
“act to make the most of the opportunities, reduce costs, and ensure we deliver successfully”.
In March 2023, the Government published their response to the recommendations made in that review. In their report, the Government agreed that “decisive action” was needed to seize the “major economic opportunities” that net zero could bring to the UK. The Government also addressed the review’s 129 recommendations. These included the following three recommendations. The first was to expand public reporting. The Government stated that
“there are many existing mechanisms to regularly scrutinise the government’s performance on net zero, including by Parliamentary Select Committees … independent bodies such as the National Audit Office, and … the Climate Change Committee”.
The second was to publish a public engagement strategy. The Government said that they had outlined their approach to public engagement in their net zero strategy. They also committed to providing additional details on public engagement “in the coming months”. This included plans to support public awareness through their digital platforms, to develop a road map outlining net-zero proposals, to establish a framework to “amplify net zero messaging” and to create an office for net zero delivery. The Government stated that the creation of the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero meant that there was now a
“department dedicated to delivering on our ambitious climate ambitions and a senior ministerial voice at the Cabinet table”.
The impact of behaviour change, the actions taken by individuals or organisations to reduce their energy use, can be significant and an essential part of the journey. On the Chris Skidmore review, while we quite rightly have a duty to ourselves, to each other and to the planet to achieve net zero and halt the temperature increase, far too often the argument focuses only on that side of things and fails to acknowledge the opportunities that net zero can bring. The Skidmore review was scathing in its assessment of the Conservative Government’s failure to recognise the huge potential for economic growth and good, green jobs that come with the transition to net zero.
What would we do? As your Lordships know, Labour would put net zero at the heart of our plans for a fairer, greener future with our green prosperity plan and invest £28 billion per year in tackling climate change, growing the green economy and creating good, green, secure local jobs across the country. Last year, the independent Climate Change Committee warned that the Government’s current climate strategy will not deliver net zero and that credible government plans exist for only 39% of the UK’s required emissions reductions.
I conclude where I began: by congratulating the committee on its impressive report and ask the Minister whether he truly feels that the Government are ready for the scale and speed of implementation to achieve environment and climate goals.
My Lords, first, I join virtually every other speaker by congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, on bringing forward this debate today, the committee on the report on the Government’s approach to enabling behaviour change, and the many businesses, local authorities, charities and others who contributed to its content.
I start by reassuring the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, and my noble friend Lord Howell that we take very seriously the need to engage the public on net zero and the environment, and we recognise that achieving our goals will require changes not only to our energy systems and infrastructure but to our everyday life, such as the way we travel and heat our homes.
The Government will continue to engage the public on the challenge of delivery and on their role and their views, building on what I think are existing strong levels of public support. We very much view the transition to our goals as a joint effort between government, business and civil society. On this point, I can reassure the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, that the transition must involve all society working together. We continue to work closely with partners in local authorities, voluntary sector organisations and, of course, crucially, business, which all play an extremely important role in how we use and choose different services.
I am very grateful to my noble friend Lord Lilley for his points on this matter, and I reassure him that our approach is to support the public in making these green choices in a way that maintains choice and freedoms, which includes adopting new low-carbon technologies and using energy technologies and services more efficiently—but emphasising the importance of individual freedom.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford asked how the Government’s energy and leadership on behaviour change match the scale of the crisis—I think that was how he put it. The noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, also asked about our strategy on behaviour change. I point both noble Lords to our net-zero growth plan and our environmental improvement plan, where we set out clear principles about how we will empower the public to make those green choices by making them significantly easier, clearer, and, crucially, more affordable, and we continue to work with industry to remove some of those barriers. The plans set out a consistent and co-ordinated approach for engaging the public across net zero and the environment, in both communicating the challenge and giving people a say in shaping future policies.
The purpose of the Government’s approach and the principles we have set out is not, again to reassure my noble friend Lord Lilley, to stop people doing things; it is about enabling people to do the same things differently and more sustainably—to make society greener by design, if you like. We also want the approach to support co-benefits—whether that is in health, well-being or, crucially, our wallets.
The noble Lords, Lord St John of Bletso, Lord Grantchester and Lord Teverson, and the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, made points about our approach to public engagement and asked when we would publish a public engagement strategy. Again, I reassure noble Lords that, in the net zero-growth plan, we announced that we will set out further detail on how the Government will increase public engagement on net zero. As part of this work, we will develop a guiding framework on public engagement, in conjunction with partners and trusted messengers, of course, to amplify the net-zero messaging. In the net-zero growth plan, we committed to supporting public awareness of our actions through our various digital platforms, and we are developing a road map, setting out plans and proposals under net zero.
The noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, and the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, asked about government plans to enable behaviour change at a local level and how we can take a place-based approach to the delivery of net zero. They both made good points on this. Again, the Government recognise that local authorities can and do play an essential role in driving local action. For example, the Government have provided funding for local on-street electric-vehicle charging infrastructure for all local authorities in England, and they have committed £470 million for local electric vehicle charging over three financial years, up to 2024-25. Of course, as I have said many times in this House, virtually all our energy-efficiency programmes are delivered through, and with the support of, local authorities and housing associations.
I thank the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, for highlighting the importance of working with trusted messengers, including faith groups. The above-mentioned public engagement framework will consider this point.
On the question of the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, about Defra’s action on waste, it is important to balance the urgency with the scale of the change needed. We need to ensure that our policies are effective. In that respect, we are working to introduce extended producer responsibility for packaging from 2024, to move the cost of dealing with household packaging waste to businesses that supply that packaging. Emphasising the importance of getting it right, we of course look at what is happening in Scotland and aim for our deposit-return scheme to begin from October 2025, ensuring that consumers are able to redeem a deposit when they return a single-use drinks container. We aim to publish our response to that consultation on local authorities, providing a comprehensive and consistent service across the whole of England.
The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, referred to a carbon calculator and we have considered this recommendation. In fact, several carbon calculators are already in use, and we are exploring whether there is a user need for new content on net zero on GOV.UK, or whether there is a greater need for additional digital information, rather than a stand-alone calculator tool.
I agree with the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Birt, about making green choices easier for consumers. We will seek to address all the major practical barriers to individual behaviours by removing frictions and minimising the disruption to people’s lives. We need to take people with us on this journey.
The transport decarbonisation plan commits to better integrating transport modes, including many more bus routes serving railway stations and improved integration of cycling and walking networks. To make green choices clearer, we aim to increase the provision of high-quality information to the public, including exploring how we better label products and services.
The noble Lord, Lord Birt, referred to the need to work together to achieve our behaviour-change goals, I reassure him that the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero has a steering and co-ordinating function across government to deliver our net-zero strategy. Teams from across government continue to seek ways to support co-ordination across net zero and to support environmental, green choices.
The noble Baroness, Lady Northover, and the noble Lord, Lord Birt, asked about the UK’s electric vehicle infrastructure network. In March 2022, the Government published their extremely ambitious electric vehicle infrastructure strategy, which sets out a coherent vision and commitments to accelerate the rollout of world-class electric vehicle charging networks and get charge points on to the ground more cheaply and quicker. The majority of EV drivers at the moment charge at home, and we expect that to continue, but we are also committed to ensuring that a robust public charging network is in place to enable long distance journeys and, of course, for the many people who do not benefit from on-site parking and need to charge on the street.
The noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, asked about the Government’s action to reach net zero. The Government are committed to making their own estate and operations more sustainable and resilient, and the greening government commitments illustrate what they are doing to improve their environmental impact and promote greater efficiencies. I also point him to the public sector decarbonisation scheme, which is very successfully rolling out energy infrastructure improvements across the public sector.
The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, referenced the Government’s commitment to active travel. I reassure him that the Government are committed to helping people to walk and cycle where they can, and that we are investing around £3 billion in active travel up to 2025, despite the efficiency savings needed due to global financial pressures. The Department for Transport has also recently established a new executive agency, Active Travel England, responsible for making walking, wheeling and cycling the preferred choice for everyone in England to get around, where they can.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Rees, for raising the important issue of the circular economy. Again, we want to make it the norm to reduce, reuse and recycle. The previously mentioned policies on waste reform will play a key role in delivering that strategy. Alongside that, we continue to support key developing technologies, including funding the circular economy hub, which will establish circular innovation centres for industries including textiles, metals and chemicals.
The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, and my noble friend Lady McIntosh raised the importance of listening to people’s views on climate change across the spectrum and highlighted some of the work of the Climate Assembly UK. Of course, we listen to any views put to us by either individual members of the public or assemblies and we have the Public Attitudes Tracker and the People and Nature Survey for England, which inform us where the public are on these issues. We also regularly fund public workshops and deliberative dialogues to inform a wide range of policy areas, including, in recent years, on net zero, heating, transport decarbonisation, hydrogen, carbon capture usage and storage and advanced nuclear technologies.
As I have set out today, the Government recognise that achieving net zero and environmental goals has to be a shared endeavour, requiring action from everyone in society, including people, businesses and, of course, the Government. We are committed to taking practical steps to support the public to make green choices in a way that supports their choice but, crucially, maintains their fundamental freedoms. We will continue to take this approach across our net-zero and environmental policies to support the UK’s transition to a green and sustainable future.
Including, not especially. The noble Lord is never a pain. The whole point and value of a House of Lords Select Committee is to bring together people with different perspectives and values and from different parties. We look at the evidence, hear people’s views and come to an agreed position, which in this case was a majority position. The noble Lord, Lord Lilley, was in a minority of one. As we heard from the Minister, even he agrees with our definition of behaviour change. As the noble Lord, Lord Browne, rightly articulated, we see behaviour change as not just about cutting consumption—the 10% referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Lilley—but about helping people adopt new technologies and services. The Minister’s definition of behaviour change was “enabling people to do the same thing greener”. The noble Lord, Lord Lilley, is in a minority of one. I am a Liberal Democrat; I am used to losing. It is time, as they say in “Frozen”, to let it go.
I thank the Minister for his response, although we could disagree about the pace of some of the things he mentioned. We have been calling for an extended producer responsibility scheme for many years. France had one about a decade ago, and the Government called their first consultation on an extended producer responsibility scheme in 2019, so the pace is pretty glacial when the challenge is so big.
However, we are pleased to hear that the Government are at last going to be getting together a net-zero strategy. This needs to be shared endeavour. People around the Room have talked about the need to bring on board local authorities, civic groups, faith groups and businesses, but the only people who can offer that leadership are the Government. We hope that they will accept that people out there are crying out for change. They want to do something about climate change, and they want the Government to lead. The Government have made some good baby steps but need to move much faster and with much greater depth if we are not going to continue having policies that are high-carbon and low-nature. As the noble Lord, Lord Birt, said, we need far greater co-ordination across government to achieve that. I thank the Minister for what he is trying to do in certain areas, but the Government need to do far more, and the evidence of our behaviour change inquiry shows that, unless the Government help people to change their behaviour, we are not going to meet the net-zero goals that the Government have set.
Science and Technology Superpower (Science and Technology Committee Report)
Motion to Take Note
My Lords, I am delighted to introduce for debate this Science and Technology Committee report on the UK as a science and technology superpower. Before I start, I declare my interests as a non-executive director of two UK technology companies: Ceres Power and Frontier IP.
The Science and Technology Committee is highly engaged, and I thank everyone on the committee at the time for their significant contributions to the final report. As ever, huge credit is due to the committee’s staff, our former clerk George Webber, Thomas Hornigold and Cerise Burnett-Stuart, who did so much of the hard work in managing the consultation and the witnesses and in preparing the report.
The committee conducted a broad-ranging inquiry into the UK science and technology ecosystem, centred around the Government’s ambition to make the UK a science superpower by 2030. The inquiry considered: defining UK priorities as part of a science and technology strategy; international aspects of the strategy; the organisational structure of UK science, including the roles of UKRI, government departments, Cabinet sub-committees and the Civil Service; the target to boost R&D spending to 2.4% of GDP; and the role of government as an investor in technology companies.
The inquiry also motivated a shorter follow-up inquiry into the people and skills in STEM, concluding with a letter to Ministers, to which we may also refer in this debate. The inquiry ran from February to July 2022, taking evidence from a wide range of UK and international science policy experts, researchers, public research establishments, universities, private companies, start-ups and technology investors. We also heard from civil servants, chief scientific advisers—including Sir Patrick Vallance and Dame Angela McLean—the chief executive of UKRI, research council heads and Ministers.
I will summarise the key messages from our report. There is a strong consensus that science, technology and innovation have a key role to play in the delivery of economic growth, improved public services and strategic international advantage. It is clear that the UK still has a strong science and technology base to build on. When the report was written, some welcome steps had already been taken, such as setting the 2.4% target, increasing funding for UKRI in government departments and establishing new bodies like the National Science and Technology Council—NSTC—as a sub-committee of the Cabinet, and the Office for Science and Technology Strategy, the OSTS. My apologies in advance for the acronym soup that this speech will now turn into.
However, the report identified many key concerns about the implementation and delivery of a science strategy, many of them familiar—indeed, some we might even call perennial problems. The first that concerned us was that the “science superpower by 2030” slogan was vague and without specific outcomes. We did not know what being a science superpower was intended to feel like. How would it be different?
Although numerous sectoral strategies exist across government, they did not appear to fit into a clear, prioritised plan. The UK cannot be “world-beating” at everything. We urged clarity about which capabilities the UK wanted to develop domestically and where it would collaborate or access. These debates remain lively, with the announcement of £900 million for exascale computing and the debate over a sovereign AI model, for example. Linked to this was the lack of a joined-up international approach. We cannot be a science superpower in isolation—collaboration and scientific openness are fundamental—but the UK remained out of Horizon Europe, and other changes, such as the reduction in ODA support, high visa costs and complex processes, risk the UK’s reputation as a destination that welcomes top international science talent and as a desirable partner in international collaborations.
On increasing complexity and lack of clarity, the committee felt that bodies like the NSTC and OSTS would provide strategic direction, but their interactions with other key bodies like UKRI were unclear and risked adding to bureaucracy. There has been inconsistency and short-term thinking, which is anathema to R&D and developing new sectors of the economy. This is exemplified by the scrapping of the industrial strategy after just a few years.
There is an urgent need for scientists, technologists and engineers, both trained domestically and welcomed from abroad. There is the challenge of scale-up: although some commercialisation metrics, like numbers of start-ups, are improving, it remains challenging for companies to scale up here, especially for those requiring significant capital investment. The recent comment by Oxford PV’s chief technology officer that the UK was the “least attractive” place to build its new factory for perovskite solar cells is a stark reminder that we continue to see companies built on ground-breaking UK science listing overseas.
As regards engaging the private sector and increasing private sector investment in R&D, a range of areas for policy reform have been identified but details of how this will work—indeed, of how the impact will be different from previous approaches—have not been set out, and the Government’s own role as a direct investor in technologies was also unclear. Disappointingly, the private sector witnesses we heard from indicated that the sector did not feel that it had been engaged in the development of the UK’s science and technology strategy. As inflation worsened during the course of the inquiry, concerns were raised about the cost of conducting research and that R&D budgets may be an easy target for departments and Governments looking to make short-term savings at the expense of long-term prosperity.
Our report made a number of recommendations. We asked for further definition of the science and technology strategy, with specific outcomes in priority areas and, critically, with an implementation plan so that it was about not just targets but action. We wanted the science and technology superpower ambition to be defined with specific metrics and suggested an independent body to monitor progress. We wanted more Cabinet-level agreement and focus on science and technology policy with a Science Minister in Cabinet and more frequent meetings of the NSTC. We wanted to see the UK rebuild its reputation as an international partner, starting with association with Horizon Europe.
We asked for clarity on how the Government were going to use their range of policy levers to stimulate private investment in R&D and more detail how tax credits, pension fund rules and procurement would need to change to support private investment in R&D and especially in scale-up companies. We suggested that reforms could be driven by specific taskforces in each area, headed by clearly accountable individuals, providing a single point of contact for stakeholder engagement. Our people and skills letter focused on four key areas: the domestic skills gap; the precariousness of research careers; visa policy for scientists and STEM workers; and our ability to retain and recruit science teachers and educators.
A great deal has happened in the year or so since this report was published, some of which I am sure some of us would rather forget. However, more positively, this includes the establishment of the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology and the appointment of a Secretary of State for Science. This is a positive development in giving science and technology a strong voice in Cabinet, but cross-departmental co-ordination through NSTC will remain critical. We look forward to hearing more from the Minister at a future appearance before our committee about her role and responsibilities and how the new department will interact with the rest of the science landscape in government and further afield.
The Windsor framework has allowed Horizon Europe negotiations to resume, and the committee urges the Government to associate at the earliest possible opportunity. The Government have published Science and Technology Framework, which sets some key targets and outcomes across 10 different science and technology areas and, although not all of them are measurable metrics, substantially builds on and defines the science and technology superpower agenda, as we urged in our report. We are promised a
“clear action plan for each strand”
by summer 2023, so we look forward to seeing them soon. Given that delivery will be overseen by the NSTC, we also hope to hear that it is meeting more regularly.
Science and Technology Framework also sets out new, if broad, priority areas including quantum, AI, engineering, biology, semiconductors and future telecoms, alongside
“life sciences, space, and green technologies.”
That is a slightly odd mixture of specific technologies and whole industry sectors, but it is a start in defining priorities for the UK. The Government say that DSIT will oversee strategies in each area, with some, like the semiconductor White Paper and AI White Paper, recently published, and associated packages of funding for semiconductors and life sciences announced.
This goes some way towards addressing our concerns that the UK’s science and technology strategy was insufficiently specified, but concerns about the scale of investment remain. For example, the semiconductor strategy announced £1 billion in funding, compared to the US support under the CHIPS Act, which totals some $52 billion, and the EU equivalent, which will amount to about €43 billion. Cambridge-based Arm is still planning to float in the US, despite government efforts. On green technologies, the approximately $400 billion investment under the Inflation Reduction Act in the US and efforts by the EU are driving a step change, which the UK has not yet responded to. It is difficult to see how we can be world beating without at least world-class investment. One has to ask whether the UK may be spreading itself too thinly by trying to compete in all these areas of science and technology. In this context of renewed industrial strategies worldwide, Make UK’s recent criticism of the UK’s lack of a long-term industrial strategy, and hence lack of pull-through for commercialising technologies, echoes the concerns raised in our report.
A further development since our report has been the recalculation of R&D GDP statistics by the ONS. This has increased estimates of R&D spend from 1.7% to 2.4% of GDP. We welcome the Government’s acknowledgement that
“a stronger baseline does not change the underlying rationale for growing investment in R&D”
and urge them to adopt an appropriate new target. A science and technology superpower should spend more than the average OECD country. We welcomed the increase in funding for R&D at the time, and we are pleased to see that it was defended in subsequent Budgets, but double-digit inflation will absorb most of this increase, while high inflation and interest rates may deter business investment in R&D.
The overall landscape of science policy and publicly funded research in the UK is responding to some major recent reviews, including the Grant review into UKRI and the Nurse review into the research and development landscape. Many of the recommendations from the Nurse review echo our own. We look forward to seeing how DSIT, UKRI and the NSTC will drive forward the recommendations from these reviews. It is encouraging to see that some promises of reform of public procurement, regulation for innovation, tax credits and intellectual property are under way. Sir Patrick Vallance’s review of regulation for emerging technologies is a positive development, and we wait to see how its recommendations are implemented.
Overall, there are promising signs that the Government view science and technology policy as a crucial area to get right. We agree that the potential is there, but the scale of the challenge must not be underestimated. Some of the recent changes are encouraging, but there is much more to do across the whole of government. Ensuring that “science and technology superpower” does not become another forgotten Panglossian political slogan will need clear strategy, commitment and co-ordination across government, business engagement, internationally competitive levels of funding and an unrelenting focus on delivery.
I shall finish by asking the Minister three specific questions: first, what is now holding up our association to the Horizon programme and when is this likely to be resolved? Secondly, what has happened to the Office for Science and Technology Strategy in the process of forming the new Department for Science, Innovation and Technology? Thirdly, will the Government be developing a science superpower skills strategy? I beg to move.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to take part in this debate, as it was to be a member of the Science and Technology Committee when we undertook this inquiry. It is a pleasure to follow my friend, the noble Baroness, Lady Brown, who eloquently set out the extent of the report’s findings so effectively. I echo her in thanking all the staff of the committee who did such excellent work supporting our inquiry. I declare my technology interests as set out in the register.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Brown, did such an effortless job in covering the ground of the report, I would like to describe how I see our findings in five words. We need all five: clarity; long term; international; investment; and implementation. Perhaps the most powerful phrase of all came from Sir Patrick Vallance when he talked about the need for a laser focus on implementation. If we take those five words—those five pillars—what might that look like in reality?
The noble Baroness, Lady Brown, rightly highlighted the importance of regulation and the Vallance review into regulation in this area. I believe that the positive power that regulation can have to support innovation and technology in this country should not be underestimated for one second. We can look recent examples such as what we with the telecoms industry to regulate to enable mobile telephony in this country and what we did even more recently with the fintech sandbox to effectively enable in a regulatory environment so many scale-ups and start-ups to come through. What is the best measure of success for that regulatory sandbox? It has been replicated in well over 50 jurisdictions around the world. That is the positive potential that we have.
Let us put the “science and technology superpower” phrase to one side for a moment. We have, in truth, a real opportunity in the UK for science, technology and innovation. That comes from the great good fortune of the combination of common law, the financial centre in London, the English language, geography, time zone and many other factors. None of that should in any sense take us into a state of believing that we are a superpower, but we should fully appreciate the possibilities that it gives.
What might that look like with a particular sector? AI is much talked of at the moment, but if we can get safe and secure rules, it could enable positive growth in this country. We heard from the Prime Minister only days ago along the lines that if we are to grapple with and solve the problem of AI, we must do this together, not just the companies, but countries. That sounds pretty positively international to me, and that has to be the right approach.
Will the Minister say where specific sectoral strategies, such as the AI strategy, fit into an overall coherent approach across all sectors, all areas and all opportunities, not least, as we have already heard, semi-conductors but quantum and DLT, to name just three? How do we enable all this to fit together? I believe that so much comes down to having innovation right through every Whitehall department, a golden thread of innovation running through every single department. It is that cross-Whitehall working point again. I believe that the difficulty is that we have only ever had cross-Whitehall working twice, once for the Olympic and Paralympic Games and a second time for Covid. It has happened only twice, but look at the results that we had when we got that cross-Whitehall working. We had the very best of our Civil Service and the very best of our state. The possibilities are immense for the United Kingdom but, ultimately, what are science and technology superpowers? They are not nations; rather they are connection, collaboration, coming together and co-creation. That is what we need to be focused on. Tout le monde, if you will. I think we all must will it.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Brown, for her excellent chairmanship of this committee and the work we got through. I also thank the wonderful team behind her. I want to suggest first of all that one of the great risks to the Government is that they start to feel very self-congratulatory. I feel that the idea of the word “superpower” was disastrous. If you talk to average scientists working in laboratories, they were horrified at it because they felt that it was yet again an example of the British Government talking themselves up without any data.
One issue is that we need to have a serious review of our international standing, which would be quite informative. I remember that some years ago, when I was a member of the UKSRC, we spent a lot of time each month looking at that standing at regular stages and trying to work out where we were doing well and where we were doing badly and we reacted in consequence. I do not know whether that still goes on in government, but it is certainly not mentioned in the Nurse review.
We have been talking about pathways to impact for a long time. One problem with impact is just what the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, said: innovation. We should forget about innovation. Innovation is a word that is so easily bandied around. What we are talking about is basic research, because it is the data that we get from basic research, not innovation, which really matters. The fact that we end up trying to suggest that we are going to change our economy with innovation because of the use of science in universities tends to be detrimental. I will come back to that in just a second.
The accent on financial value puts some academics off research. Indeed, I emphasise that the word “innovation” does not ring much with many people. In saying this, I declare my interest in a company called Startransfer, which is looking at some aspects of trying to change embryo culture. It is registered as a company, but nonetheless I still feel that the innovation side is really unimportant. It is the research that we are doing which will be important.
A key question that I want the Minister to answer is about the assessment of a project afterwards. When we talked to the people in charge of UKRI, they talked about the first 20% of grants being awarded. It would be very interesting to know whether those grants are tracked long term, what happens to them and whether they have the pathway to impact that they say they do in the application.
More importantly, I would argue that we are losing a lot of people in research. If 20% of our applications to UKRI are working, that means that 80% of scientists working in really good universities are not getting funded by a key body that is essential to their career. That is a very important consideration for the Government, and it seems to me that, unless we track what happens to the next 20%, the people who do not get a grant, we are failing in our duty to the whole situation.
I remember one of my colleagues who was working in my laboratory for a long time on splice sites, which was not very popular at the time, spending a year doing three different applications, none of which was successful. Eventually, he left without a research grant, and of course he has now retired early. Five or six years later, we are starting to see that the work that he was doing was really brilliant; it is now being recognised internationally, but of course it was never funded. That is important, too.
Finally, we need to be much more aware about UKRI. I did not think that we were doing this at all well, and we did not get the answers that we needed in the committee about researchers getting feedback from the organisation. When I was working in the United States, if you put in for a grant to the American equivalent for health research, you could phone up and get somebody to speak to who would give you some advice about how you might make your project more effective and successful as well as more topical and relevant to what the body was trying to do. We need to do that, and that goes with public engagement, which we have already been through in the previous debate.
My Lords, it was an honour to be a member of the committee, and I pay tribute to our chair, the noble Baroness, Lady Brown of Cambridge, and our very helpful staff. We heard compelling evidence that, desirable though it may be, the ambition of the UK to become a science superpower is not on track. There is not much time, so I shall just make a few points.
The government response announced that we have reached the target of 2.4% of GDP spent on R&D. However, all our witnesses agreed that we must continue to keep pace with other nations if we are to reach the Government’s goal of becoming a science superpower by 2030. How are the Government tracking what other nations are doing?
Ten months has passed since the publication of the report, and we now have DSIT, the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology. One of our recommendations was about the Office of Science and Technology, which has not met many times nor produced any major papers. It has now been moved to DSIT and the Secretary of State will decide its remit. Can the Minister tell us when that will be published and how it will interact with the National Science and Technology Council, which I am glad to say has survived the reorganisation?
To achieve the Government’s objective, we need to be open to the brightest and best from abroad, but we have the most expensive and unwieldy visa system among comparable countries, apart from Australia and New Zealand. Additionally, successful applicants and their dependants must pay upfront for health services for the whole period of the visa. This is a substantial disincentive. The Government denied that our system costs more, which is blatantly not true, according to their own table, but said that the immigration system should be paid for by the users and not the taxpayer. We have asked for details of the actual costs attributed to the relevant visas, but these have not been supplied. Is it the case that scientific visa applicants are subsidising other functions of the Home Office?
The Government rejected our recommendation that health costs could be paid in annual instalments, saying that this would be too onerous for the Home Office and the NHS. It may be too onerous for the Home Office, but it cannot be beyond the capability of the NHS, because it already has to verify the eligibility of foreign visitors to use our health services. Can the Minister justify the Government’s attitude?
The Government want to become a regulatory superpower. The committee accepted that regulation can make countries more attractive to investors by indicating the direction of travel, but companies operating in international markets are concerned about regulatory divergence. We recommended that the Government should work with industry and the research base to identify the areas in which the UK can take a global lead, because deregulation for its own sake will not automatically spur innovation. Apparently, DSIT will be responsible for regulation of AI in a “pro-innovation fashion”. Will the Minister explain how taking a lead on regulation will encourage innovation without the potential downsides of divergence?
Turning to homegrown people and skills, we heard about the lack of routes for technicians, referred to as the gap in the middle. Higher-level apprenticeships can fill the gap. The committee recommended that higher-level apprentices should be given the financial support to enable them to move around the country to find an appropriate place—like university students. The Government’s response mentions a few small bits of support, but they hardly add up to what the committee had in mind. Can the Minister do better?
Finally, if we are to recruit more STEM graduates, we need more specialist teachers. There is a jumble of incentives for IT, chemistry and physics teachers, but nothing for specialist maths teachers, particularly in the light of the Prime Minister’s objective of having all young people study maths until they are 18. You cannot do that without teachers, so can the Minister say how it will be achieved?
My Lords, I, too, add my thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Brown of Cambridge, for her comprehensive and, as usual, well-articulated speech. It is a pity that the Government in their response to the report did not recognise that its recommendations are an excellent blueprint for making the UK a global leader in science and technology. In my brief contribution, I shall focus on one recommendation relating to the need to develop global science partnerships, where the Government have not, as yet, a clear policy, without which their ambition for us to be a science superpower and for the UK to be a global Britain—terms often used by the Government—will not be accomplished.
Superpowers in defence, security and foreign policy use their power for greater influence in the world. That applies equally to countries that are leaders in science and technology, which position themselves to have a greater global impact. Collaboration is at the heart of being a science superpower. Acting in the national interest and for global benefit is not in conflict when it comes to research.
Our membership of the EU’s Horizon programmes allowed us to be one of the world’s leading countries for global partnerships in science and technology. We became the destination of first choice for young, talented, ambitious researchers. Many stayed on, were welcomed and went on to become principal investigators, some even winning prestigious awards, including Nobel prizes. Securing the UK’s research relationship with Europe, as has already been mentioned, is very important, and I hope the Government will pursue that and succeed, but we must also forge new relationships beyond Europe.
Freedom of movement of scientists to the UK, not just from the EU but from the wider world, demonstrated that the UK was open to talent, without barriers or high cost to individuals. Our open border to scientific talent is now closed, driven more by our immigration policy, as described by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, than by our ambition to be a global leader in science. Visas, health premiums and other costs, and now possible restrictions on families being able to accompany, are policies that make the UK seem an unwelcoming and expensive country. As highlighted by many, such as the Wellcome Trust. the ABPI, the Royal Society, et cetera, the UK needs to articulate more clearly its policies of global co-operation that will attract science talent to the UK.
Some key principles should guide this policy. The UK must be open, creating an environment where ideas can flourish and talent is welcome, creating a globally connected science community. The UK must build networks around the world and drive the policies that make our country the centre of those networks in a collaborative way. There is a need for more strategic thinking that allows a small country such as the UK to be an important partner in big, global projects. We need to use the UK’s influence for the global good and explore more the soft power of science collaboration. In this respect, stopping the ODA programmes by cutting funds gave completely the wrong message. Building a reputation—the one we had in the not-too-distant past—as the go-to research partners of choice for talented individuals and countries will not only supercharge our domestic research but attract foreign investment and talent.
My time is running out, so I ask the Minister: when will the Government publish a strategy for global partnerships in science and technology and remove current immigration barriers?
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Brown, for tabling this debate and ably chairing our Select Committee, and to the team supporting it. I declare an interest as a member of the committee, as an adviser to Future Planet Capital, which invests in the UK and global venture ecosystem for innovation, and as an adviser to or being on the board of a number of tech-related start-ups such as Sweetbridge EMEA and Dot Investing.
The report rightly highlights areas where the UK must improve to achieve its ambition of becoming a science and technology superpower, whether you define that in terms of the amount of innovation generated, the number of patents, ideas or even Nobel prizes, the value of ideas commercialised or simply our influence. The report highlights the areas that are key to success: increasing R&D funding; forging closer ties between academia and industry and between different parts of government, industry and academia; changing the way visas are charged for; and supporting start-ups to scale up. But without action, “science and technology superpower” remains merely a slogan. The Government must turn pledges into progress if the UK is to strengthen its position as a global leader in innovation.
However, even if we succeed in these areas, the UK faces structural challenges in the size of its domestic market, in access to capital markets for innovation in the City, in talent, in commercialisation expertise and in other resources, which the report acknowledges by rightly highlighting priority areas that we need to focus on. Our venture ecosystem, while thriving, remains small-scale in global comparison, although there have been laudable recent attempts to ramp this up by working with larger investors such as sovereign wealth and pension funds and insurers.
Our ageing population means taxation policies must account for the needs of tomorrow as well as today if we want sustainable public funding for R&D and education. We must pick our battles in areas where we can differentiate ourselves and lead. Therefore, to get bang for our buck, we should welcome a focus on areas such as artificial intelligence and machine learning, space and satellite technology, fintech, energy transition technologies such as nuclear, renewables and battery storage, and precision medicine and life sciences.
The report could have gone further in articulating how the UK can harness its advantages of agility, expertise and a focus on global impact to overcome disadvantages of scale. We showed what is possible by developing a world-class vaccine at record pace. By being more flexible and sandboxing regulations more, attracting capital from overseas and matching it with our own large domestic investment sources, and harnessing government procurement in a smarter way, we can still edge ahead. Our time zone and legal and regulatory systems enable the UK to become a launch pad for new technologies and be a leader that can attract the finance needed to make firms global without their having to shift their base abroad.
It saddens me that we have not sufficiently built on the success of the Vaccine Taskforce led so ably by Kate Bingham, or gone further—simplifying regulation and procurement where we could have to achieve greater freedoms for pioneers and innovators to build world-class supply chains based on science and tech. I ask the Minister what we are doing to build on this success as part of our science superpower strategy. With vision, the right targeted investments and, crucially, the right culture, we can navigate the challenges of size through global leadership in emerging sectors.
In conclusion, while the report highlights actions the Government must take to achieve their bold ambition, the UK must go further in playing to its strengths, particularly by being more nimble and having STEM-savvy, trained regulators and policymakers. By targeting support for sectors where we can differentiate globally, providing access to talent and long-term funding, and enabling an agile approach to regulation and policy-making, the UK can overcome its disadvantages of scale and smaller market to cement its role as a pioneering science and innovation leader on the world stage.
If we match rhetoric with resource, “science and technology superpower” can become more than a slogan, but it will require the right attitude and culture. As it says in Zechariah chapter 4, verse 6:
“Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord Almighty—you will succeed because of my Spirit”.
May the UK have that plucky spirit, which has served it well in the past and can do so again in the future.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord. I very much welcome the chance to take part in this debate, not least because I have recently joined the committee. I refer to my entry in the register of interests, but my main declaration is that I have an interest in science—not a financial but a real interest in it.
I congratulate the members of the committee, the chair and the staff on their work on this report. It makes some excellent recommendations, which I support. It takes a long time for Select Committee reports to finally get debated in your Lordships’ House. I would have preferred this debate to take place in the Chamber, thereby exposing more Members to what we are talking about, which would be a very good thing, but it is better than nothing to hold it here. I say to the Minister and the Government Whips: we need more debates about science and not fewer.
I thank all of the outside organisations that took the time to contact me and provide background briefings for today’s debate, including, in no particular order, the Royal Academy of Engineering, the Royal Society, the Campaign for Science and Engineering—I note its comprehensive report, published by the Foundation for Science and Technology—Cancer Research UK, the Protect Pure Maths campaign, Imperial College and, of course, our own House of Lords Library. With only a few minutes for each Member, there is no way in a million years that I can refer to all the points that have been made, but I want their contributions to be recorded in Hansard.
We hear a lot about the phrase “science superpower” —I first heard it in 2016—but what does it actually mean? We are all familiar with the basic strengths of science in the UK—the oft-cited statistics about the number of research papers in proportion to the population, the excellence of our world-class universities, and so on. We have strengths and, now, strategic objectives in a number of key areas, such as quantum computing, AI, engineering and synthetic biology, semiconductors, future telecoms, life sciences, space and green tech. We know all of that and, yes, the UK does punch above its weight in science, but we need a range of things to fall into place to turn the slogan of a “science superpower” into reality.
Since this report was issued, there have been some important structural changes in the way the Government now approach this. We have the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology, which gives the Secretary of State a place at the Cabinet table. We had the Nurse review and the welcome step forward in making integrated recommendations for the future of the research landscape. We have an active and assiduous Science Minister, to whom I pay tribute. So we have this organisational structure, but I hope it will last. I recently asked the departed Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, whether it would have helped his job if all these things had been in place when he started. The answer was: yes, it would.
However, we need a sense of commitment and sustained effort. I give the Prime Minister credit for giving every appearance of being committed, but can the Minister tell us how often these Cabinet committees now meet and how often the Prime Minister chairs them? What is the role of the new Chief Scientific Adviser and technology adviser, and how do their respective offices work? If the Minister is able, can he tell us how ARIA is getting on?
In the short time available, I will emphasise one point, on Horizon Europe. Will the UK rejoin it, and when? It would be remiss of me not to mention this, as I have put down Question after Question in the House over almost the last year and a half, and it has been a deeply damaging story, to put it very mildly. If today’s debate can achieve anything, it would be helpful if the Minister could tell us a bit more about what exactly is going on. Are we still negotiating? Are we doing so in good faith, or are our fingers crossed behind our backs in the hope that plan B is perhaps better? Is the row just about different UK and EU assessments about the effect of not being a member for two years? It is not just about the money—it is about the collaboration, contacts and networks, as other Members said. It is not just in Europe that we should collaborate; we signed a memorandum of understanding on science and technology with the United States and, last December, the Government signed an important international science partnership fund in Japan.
Whatever else a “science superpower” may prove to mean, it will definitely involve making sure that the UK is open to worldwide scientific co-operation, making it the most attractive place in which to do science research and then developing and commercialising it for the benefit of the UK and humanity.
My Lords, I am also a new member of the committee—I joined after this inquiry. I declare my unpaid interest as a council member of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. This is a vital report, extremely effectively and comprehensively introduced by the noble Baroness, Lady Brown.
In the 2021 integrated review, the Government claimed that so-called “Global Britain” was a science “superpower”. By the time that this apparently once-in-a-generation review had to be refreshed, only two years later, the Government simply said that we had a “strategic advantage” in science and technology, if we specialised—Patrick Vallance had probably corrected the original claim. However, in neither review was the vital Horizon programme even mentioned. Despite scientists urging association, the problem at first was our potentially breaking international law in relation to Northern Ireland. Then it was whether Horizon was value for money; the Prime Minister was apparently sceptical about its value.
The head of one of our higher education institutions told me that before we left Horizon he would get many inquiries about potential collaboration from EU scientists he did not know. Those approaches have completely dried up. Scientists report that they are muddling through, with UKRI temporarily helping to fill gaps, but that is not sustainable long term. As the noble Baroness, Lady Brown, and the noble Lord, Lord Patel, emphasised, we cannot be a science superpower without that international collaboration. The Royal Society argues that an international approach is vital and that,
“association to Horizon Europe, Euratom, and Copernicus are crucial,”
The Nurse review says that it is “essential” that we rejoin Horizon.
There are many advantages to a multi-country programme over a merely national one. Problems and solutions cross international boundaries—for example, climate change or the pandemic. Funding and access to research infrastructure is increased, with further opportunities to commercialise research. Skills and expertise can be pooled. Can the Minister update us on Horizon and not simply give us warm words, which is what we have been hearing so far?
Sustained UK support for science remains vital. The report is right to emphasise the need for an industrial strategy. Out of an analysis on the coalition of the strengths and weaknesses of the UK economy came the catapults and, for example, significant investment in the Crick Institute as the largest biomedical centre in Europe. This Government seem strangely proud of not having an industrial strategy, and that just seems bizarre.
When ODA was suddenly cut from 0.7% of GNI to 0.5%, and then focused on supporting refugees, no one in Government seemed aware of how much had gone to supporting research, and it was suddenly removed. Thus investment in the Jenner Institute on the Ebola vaccine helped to pave the way for the Covid vaccine. We did well in this sector due to earlier investment. ODA money, as the noble Lord, Lord Patel, said, indeed helped to build our international reputation in science.
The Government now talk of,
“shaping the global science and technology landscape through strategic international engagement, diplomacy and partnerships”.
That is double-speak right now. The Royal Society states that, if the UK wants to be a world leader in this area, it also needs to be world-leading in its approach to researcher mobility. The Nurse review points to immigration policy hindering wider objectives for research. Now we hear that masters students should not bring dependants with them. What does that do for our universities, for families and particularly for women?
Therefore, my questions to the Minister in his new department, welcome as it is, are: will it start advocating effectively in Cabinet for those in science and higher education? Should immigration policy remain in the Home Office? What is taking the Government so long to sign up to Horizon, and how will they put right the damage that has already been done?
My Lords, I declare my interests as set out in the register and join others in thanking our excellent chair, the noble Baroness, Lady Brown of Cambridge, and the clerk and policy analyst who helped us produce this report.
Some of our witnesses told us that we are already a science superpower, while others said it was a meaningless slogan or possibly, as the noble Lord, Lord Winston, said, unhelpful boasting. My conclusion is that the slogan is largely hot air. Why do I say that? It is because the Government have not learned the lessons of history. The first person to try to quantify the UK’s position in the world of science was the late Lord May of Oxford when he was the Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser. He quantified the performance of the UK relative to other countries in terms of major prizes such as the Nobel, Crafoord, and Balzan, and, in terms of bibliometrics, the numbers of papers published and citations. The UK was second only to the United States in scientific output and productivity. With 2% of the world’s scientists, we published 10% of the world’s papers and 13% of the most highly cited papers. If you look at input as well as output, the UK was well ahead of all other large countries in terms of bangs per buck.
Those are facts that Lord May of Oxford established —but the question is: why were we so successful? It cannot be that we are somehow inherently superior or innately better at science than anybody else. I shall mention three factors. The first is long-termism. In scientific research, major discoveries or breakthroughs usually follow many years of dedicated pursuit and many blind alleys. Nobel Prize winner, Max Perutz, referred to the long, lean years in his 22-year quest to determine the structure of haemoglobin, the molecule that carries oxygen to every cell in our bodies. Furthermore, the lag between discovery and application is generally measured in decades rather than years. Katalin Kariko, the Hungarian-American scientist whose research led to the development of RNA vaccines against Covid, such as Pfizer and Moderna, made her key discoveries in the late 1980s and early 1990s with no application on the horizon.
The second ingredient in the recipe for success is openness, which many other noble Lords have mentioned. Of the 72 Nobel Prizes in all fields awarded to UK scientists in the past 50 years, 20 were awarded to people born overseas who moved to the UK to do research. We have benefited hugely from welcoming overseas scientists.
The third ingredient in the recipe for success is freedom of inquiry. Were Watson and Crick on a mission to solve a practical problem? No. They were driven by an impulse to unlock the secrets of nature. As a result, they made one of the most profound discoveries of all time in the life sciences, which has transformed medicine. In fact, you could argue that, if you know how the results of your work are going to be applied, it cannot be very interesting or novel work in the first place.
In the Government’s quest to become or remain a scientific superpower, have they learned the lessons of history? Our evidence suggested not. Here is what we heard. First, in recent years the Government have published no fewer than eight different strategies for science with 25 priority areas: there is no long termism here. Secondly, the Government have slammed the door on many scientists from overseas by bureaucratic and financial hurdles and as a result of Brexit. Thirdly, the pipeline of young scientific talent is being strangled by a combination of precarity and bureaucratic overload in UKRI for early career researchers and further back in the pipeline by the persistent shortage of science teachers in state schools. Becoming a science superpower is not a sprint—it is a marathon, and the Government have tied their shoelaces together at the start of the race. I hope that the Minister will answer my questions about the lessons of history and say whether he agrees with them.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Brown, and the committee staff. I will venture a few words on schools, universities and R&D. Ideally, these crucial sectors should be governed by a bipartisan consensus that offers long-term stability. In depressing contrast, turbulence in government has triggered unstable policies, a rapid churn of Ministers and the proliferation of committees.
Attainment levels in our schools are poor compared to nations in the Far East and northern Europe. In particular, there are far too few good science teachers. There are three things that can be done: ensuring that conditions are good enough and pay levels are appropriate for practitioners of a serious profession; encouraging mature individuals to move into teaching from a career in research, industry or the Armed Forces; and making better use of the web and distance learning.
Our international rankings are higher in higher education, but there are some worrying trends. Academia is becoming less alluring. Some people will become academics, whatever happens—the nerdish element, of which I am one—but a world-class university system cannot survive just on them. It must attract a share of young people who are savvy about their options and ambitious to achieve something distinctive by their 30s. They increasingly associate academia with years of precarity and undue financial sacrifices.
A further off-putting trend is the deployment of ever more detailed performance indicators to quantify outputs, and the labour involved in preparing grant applications with a diminishing chance of success. This pressure gives two perverse incentives to young academics: to shun high-risk research and to downplay their teaching. Indeed, the declared rationale for setting up ARIA is to foster “long-term”, “blue-skies” research and freedom from bureaucracy in a fashion not available elsewhere in the system. It should surely be a higher priority to render less vexatious the bureaucracy of UKRI, whose budget is 50 times higher than ARIA’s.
In the UK, research is still strongly concentrated in universities—not so in France and Germany—but the encroachment of audit culture and other pressures are rendering universities less propitious environments for research projects that demand intense and sustained effort. Dedicated, stand-alone labs may become preferable —although there is a downside, as they reduce contact between talented researchers and students. Indeed, the UK owes its strength in biomedical science to its famous labs, which allow full-time, long-term research, with government funding massively supplemented by the Wellcome Trust, the cancer charities and a strong pharmaceutical industry. To ensure effective exploitation of new discoveries, these institutes must be complemented by organisations that can offer adequate development and manufacturing capability. This fortunate concatenation certainly proved its worth in the recent pandemic. We likewise need this in energy, AI and other crucial technologies.
One should welcome Paul Nurse’s recent report, whatever one’s views of his earlier report that created UKRI—and the web of new committees that it embedded into. However, our ability to attract and retain mobile academic talent, and our ranking as a destination of choice by those people, is now at risk. I will not reiterate the overwhelming case for rejoining the ERC, but there is now an international market for the best students as well: they are academic assets and a long-term investment in international relations. To retain its competitiveness as a “destination of choice” for mobile experts, despite the setback of Brexit, the nation must remove impediments and raise its game. Ways of doing this are a key theme of our committee’s report.
My Lords, I join everyone in thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Brown of Cambridge, and her committee; I look forward to its future work and future reports—which I hope will be debated more promptly.
This report from August 2022 reveals gaping holes where government action should have been. I thank Imperial College London for its useful briefing, which identified how some of those gaping holes have been plugged, at least with stopgap measures. However, as many other noble Lords have already noted, the remaining enormous holes in the house of scientific and technological endeavour, out of which human and financial resources are fast flowing, are the lack of UK association with the Horizon Europe programme; the disastrous hostile environment immigration policies; and the collapse in the genuine official development assistance support. The Royal Academy of Engineering also provided useful reflections, stressing principles including a willingness to act for the long term; moving with agility and at pace; trusted and capable leadership; and action that accelerates progress. Those are not, I am afraid, anything with which this Government are associated.
However, rather than taking pot shots—as tempting and easy as that is—I will seek to bring a unique Green perspective to this debate, and make three challenges to the very foundations of the Government’s approach and, in some respects—and with respect—to that of your Lordships’ committee. The first is the assumption, underlying much of the Government’s rhetoric, that the aim of the science and technology framework—with its talk of bringing technologies to market and of private sector involvement and profit—is to make things, or to create services or intellectual property, to sell.
Certainly, when one looks at the UKRI five-year strategy from March 2022, I am not going to argue with the aim of driving the development, adoption and diffusion of green technologies, but also in that list is developing preventive measures to improve the nation’s health and well-being. The new Secretary of State talks of helping British people to live longer, smarter, healthier and happier lives, but what if achieving that means not making things or creating services to sell, not improving profits but finding ways in which to heal lives and environments without making a profit, thus cutting demand for expensive drugs or invasive treatments, ending the need for farmers to use pesticides or herbicides, or co-creating essential knowledge, working with researchers and communities in the global South and sharing that knowledge for free? Identifying the bad things that we do now and stopping them is also science, even if that means cutting profits and reducing GDP. We need to think hard about how we find funding for research and development for such measures, and that has to be a government priority.
Secondly, I disagree with the five critical technologies identified in the science and technology framework. Crucially, there are two things that are not there: ecology and social innovation. I disagree particularly with one that is there:
“Engineering biology–the application of rigorous engineering principles to the design of biological systems”.
That is such a 20th-century reductionist and outdated view, the kind that we saw on full display in the creation of the so called Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Act. Are they really the same Government who occasionally, at odd moments, will claim to believe in the principles of agroecology and to understand that the survival of human systems on this planet to maintain a liveable climate and natural systems means working with the incredibly complex and still little understood natural systems of animals, plants, fungi, bacteria, viruses and archaea that together have created life on this planet?
Finally, although noble Lords may think that I have been radical enough, I am going to finish with an even more radical thought. The UKRI again speaks of securing UK strategic advantage in game-changing technologies, but rather than thinking about beating others in a world facing the climate emergency and nature crisis, with epidemics of poverty and ill health, rampant pandemic threats and a planet poisoned with plastics, pesticides and pharmaceuticals, we have to co-operate with others to make the best possible collective use of human ingenuity, skills, talent and time to survive and thrive through this next dangerous century.
I express my appreciation to the staff and the leadership of the committee.
British science is in a parlous state. We are in the process of crippling our academic institutions, which have traditionally fostered our scientific discoveries. We are also losing the technological industries that have stimulated our inventiveness. Many are quietly disappearing, if they are not falling into the hands of foreign owners, which is often a prelude to their eventual demise.
During the committee’s inquiry, a plethora of reviews were under way concerning the governance of science and technology in the UK. These included the second review by Paul Nurse of the R&D organisational landscape, the Tickell review into research bureaucracy and the Gluckman review into the research excellence framework, which audits the research activities of universities.
The second Nurse review, which was delivered after the publication of the report of the committee, contains some interesting revelations. The first of these, as other noble Lords have mentioned, is that there has been a systematic underestimation of the percentage of GDP that the UK devotes to research and development. For many years, it was thought to be a mere 1.7%; it now appears that it is close to the OECD average of 2.5%. The second revelation is that the amount of R&D directly sponsored by the UK Government is well below the OECD average and far behind that of most research-intensive nations.
In putting this finding into perspective, it helps to take a long historical view. The country that emerged from the Second World War was endowed with a wealth of government research establishments and with many scientific and technological projects that were supported by the Government. The aviation industry was in receipt of large subventions. It was generating numerous prototypes of advanced military and civil aircraft. To restrain these expenditures became an obsession of the Civil Service. It developed a methodology of project cancellation that became more effective with the passage of time.
The restraint of government expenditure on research and development extended far beyond the aviation industry. It greatly affected Britain’s nuclear power industry, which was brought to a virtual halt. The restraint also affected many of the research establishments that had been supporting industry in both the public and the private sectors. Britain’s computer and telecommunications industries collapsed through a lack of support. This litany can be continued with many other examples. The advent of the Conservative Administration of Margaret Thatcher saw the culmination of this process of governmental disengagement, and there has been no significant re-engagement subsequently.
A truth that the report does not acknowledge sufficiently is that a nation cannot aspire to become a scientific superpower if it lacks a basis of scientific and technological industries that are ready to call upon the skills of the research workers. Britain has a severely attenuated industrial base. The decline of British industry has been a gradual and an inexorable process, to which several factors have contributed. The foremost of these has been the failure of our export industries, for which the persistent overvaluation of our currency has been largely responsible. The resulting balance of payments problems have been addressed by the Government’s encouragement of so-called inward financial investment, which has amounted to the sale of our infrastructure and industries to foreign owners. Among the companies that have been most attractive to foreign investors are those within our high-tech industries.
In the absence of a commercial and an industrial stimulus, British research and innovation is liable to retreat into British universities, which are also in peril. It is a familiar nostrum that, although British universities have been excellent at pure research, they have been less successful at applying it in practical contexts. The blame has tended to fall upon the academics and hardly at all upon industries that might have been their clients. The nostrums of the knowledge exchange framework and the demands for practicality that have arisen within the research excellence framework are a testimony to this tendency.
Universities are now in severe financial straits. Their staff, who have suffered severe erosions of their incomes and growing insecurity of their employment, are frequently on strike. The prospects for British science are poor, at a time when, in consequence of Brexit, many foreign academics have left the country and when senior academics are inclined to discourage their research students from thinking of joining the profession.
My Lords, I declare my interests in the register and congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Brown of Cambridge, and her committee on producing this important and comprehensive report. It rightly emphasises the need for government to have a clear and consistent science and technology policy, with a laser focus on implementation to prevent “science and tech superpower” simply being an empty slogan.
I will make just two points. The first relates to the vital role of industry engagement, and the second concerns the crucial importance of association with Horizon Europe. On the role of industry, the Government’s R&D spend of 2.4% of GDP requires significant private sector investment, which is expected to be around twice the public sector spending. The apparent increase to 2.4% is, of course, welcome, but it represents a significant increase in industry funding. As the Select Committee report notes,
“industry does not yet feel engaged with the strategy process”
of the Government.
A vital ingredient of the pathway to the UK becoming a science and tech superpower will be effective translation of research for application and exploitation by industry. The recent Nurse review, published in March, addressed the importance of translational research organisations, rightly emphasising the need to bridge
“the gap between discovery research and the translation of that research into real-world uses”.
The review highlights the important role of catapults in achieving this. They are independent, not-for-profit technology and innovation centres first established by the Government in 2011. They are intended to foster collaboration between research organisations in the public and private sectors, and their main purpose is to assist industry with turning innovative research ideas into commercial products via connections and networks. The Royal Academy of Engineering emphasises the importance of connections and networks, as exemplified by catapults, in its recent position paper, Strategic Advantage through Science and Technology: the Engineering View, which was published in April.
This House’s Science and Technology Select Committee considered catapults in detail in its report, Catapults: Bridging the Gap Between Research and Industry, published in February 2021. I was privileged to have been a member of that committee under the excellent chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Patel. We made a number of recommendations regarding catapults, and our report was debated in the House last year.
In particular, we highlighted the crucial question of the future role and long-term continuity of the catapults. We recommended that the Government prioritise scaling up the Catapult Network, promoting it as the UK’s national innovation asset. In the light of the ambition for the UK to become a science and technology superpower, can the Minister provide an update on the Government’s strategy regarding catapults and their role in promoting substantially greater industry R&D investment?
My second and final point relates to Horizon Europe. The noble Baroness, Lady Brown of Cambridge, referred to this critical post-Brexit issue in her excellent introductory speech, as did other noble Lords speaking in this debate. The Select Committee rightly highlights the damage already caused to the UK’s reputation and scientific capability by the ongoing lack of association with Horizon Europe. UK universities have built high-impact science, technology and innovation networks over many decades of collaboration within EU framework programmes. These are now in jeopardy.
The UK must be seen by all international research communities as a reliable partner, and the Government must recognise that their plan B in the event of non-association with Horizon Europe is in danger of being a poor second best. The Nurse review concludes that it is essential that the UK associate with Horizon Europe. If it does not do so, the UK is in real danger of losing its prestigious position in the global R&D hierarchy, becoming less attractive as a research partner and for foreign investment and less likely to become a science and technology superpower.
My Lords, I declare my interests as set out in the register, in particular as chair of the council of Queen Mary University of London. This has been a wide-ranging debate, demonstrating that the committee’s report, despite being nearly a year old, still has great currency and relevance and its conclusions are as valid as they were a year ago. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Brown, for her clear, comprehensive and challenging introduction to the report.
Many noble Lords mentioned the Government’s science superpower ambition. The “hot air” comment from the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, was pretty fair. Sir James Dyson was even ruder, describing the Government’s science superpower ambition as a political slogan. There is probably a common view that it should be dropped, but it being clearly overblown as a slogan should not detract from the fact that there are opportunities in so many different fields, as many noble Lords have said.
I very much liked the way in which the noble Lords, Lord Holmes and Lord Krebs, both talked about the secret—the essence—of success in terms of collaboration and cocreation. The noble Lord, Lord Krebs, mentioned long-termism, openness, freedom of inquiry and the fact that those lessons had not been learned. As the committee noted and a number of noble Lords have said, we have had a proliferation of strategies in various areas, but with what follow up and plans for delivery? We have had a whole series of reviews, some of which were mentioned by the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, but where is the result? What will the KPIs be? What is the shelf life of these reviews and where is the practical implementation?
I will take just one example: the Life Sciences Vision, which was launched back in 2021. Dame Kate Bingham is quoted as believing that the vaccine scheme legacy has been “squandered” despite that vision. Business investment is crucial and nowhere more than in the life sciences sector. A couple of weeks ago, the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, highlighted the issues relating to business investment in the life sciences sector in his regret Motion on the Branded Health Service Medicines (Costs) (Amendment) Regulations 2023. All the levers to create incentives for the development of new medicines are under government control but, as his Motion noted, the UK’s share of global pharmaceutical R&D fell by more than one-third between 2012 and 2020.
The noble Lord rightly argued that the voluntary and statutory pricing schemes for new medicines are becoming a major impediment to future investment in the UK. We seem to be treating the pharma industry as some kind of golden goose so, despite the Government’s Life Sciences Vision, we see Eli Lilly pulling investment on laboratory space in London because the UK
“does not invite inward investment at this time”
and AstraZeneca has decided to build its next plant in Ireland because of the UK’s discouraging tax rate. The excellent O’Shaughnessy report on clinical trials is all very well, but if there is no commercial incentive to develop and launch new medicines here, why should pharma companies want to engage in clinical trials here? The Chancellor’s growth package for the life sciences, announced on 25 May, fails to tackle this crucial aspect, and I could repeat that for other sectors.
On these Benches, we welcome the creation of the new department and the launch of the Science and Technology Framework to inform the work of the department to 2030, but what are the key priority outcomes? What concrete plans for delivery lie behind it? Does it explicitly supersede all the visions and strategies that have gone before? The crux of this committee’s report seems to me to accord with that. It states:
“The Government should set out specifically what it wants to achieve in each of the broad areas of science and technology that it has identified. There should be a clear implementation plan.”
It also stated that,
“the Government should consolidate existing sector-specific strategies”
into that implementation plan.
We have heard from a number of Lords about vital cross-departmental working and joining up government on science and technology, but we do not yet really know the role of the National Science and Technology Council and what its key priorities are and, indeed, what the priorities of the Office for Science and Technology Strategy are.
This applies particularly with regard to the Home Office’s policy on visas. We heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, my noble friends Lady Walmsley and Lady Northover, and the noble Lord, Lord Patel, about the fact that the policy on visas and migration is directly at odds with an effective science policy. If we are going to be world-leading in our approach to research and mobility, we need to correct that in many different ways.
There are important systemic issues that should be a top priority for resolution by the new department. We have had the independent review by Sir Paul Nurse, which has been mentioned. I suspect he has calculated our spending in a rather different way from the way that the department has, but he concluded that funding, particularly provided by government, was limited and below that of other competitive nations such as Germany, South Korea and US. My noble friend Lady Walmsley asked whether we track how other nations are spending.
There is the question of Horizon, which we have disproportionately benefited from in the past, yet we have a complete lack of clarity in this area, as the noble Baronesses, Lady Brown and Lady Bennett, the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, the noble Lord, Lord Mair, and my noble friend Lady Walmsley said. We need a clear commitment to re-entering Horizon. What is the position nearly two months after the Prime Minister’s letter to Sir Adrian Smith on 14 April assuring him about our intentions on Horizon? Many other nations that are not members of the European Union belong to Horizon.
The way the UK delivers and supports research is not optimal. We have heard from a number of noble Lords about the way that the bureaucracy of UKRI operates. The Tickell review found that there are issues with bureaucracy around research and development funding. As the noble Lord, Lord Rees, says, it is extraordinary that ARIA was specifically designed to avoid bureaucracy. Its budget is tiny in comparison to UKRI, yet we have not reformed the processes of UKRI to make them less bureaucratic.
The noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, talked about the role of university research, and others talked about the research excellence framework. We seem to have a rather perverse approach to this. As the noble Lord, Lord Patel, said, we should encourage strategic partnerships, which should be very much part of the warp and weft of what we are trying to achieve. At the moment, our research in universities is cross-subsidised by overseas students, which is an extraordinary state of affairs. We really need to look at that in some detail.
With the greatest respect to the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, commercialisation is a crucial aspect linking R&D to economic growth. This, in turn, means the need for a consistent industrial strategy—as the noble Baroness, Lady Brown, and my noble friend Lady Northover said—with the right commercial incentives and an understanding of the value of intangible assets, such as IP and data. The noble Lord, Lord Mair, talked about catapults—I am a huge fan of them—and he was entirely right to raise the resources and the strategy that is being pursued. An update from the Minister on that would be extremely welcome.
There are many other aspects to do with the scale-up finance issues, which Sir Patrick Vallance mentioned in his evidence to the Commons Science, Innovation and Technology Committee last month. We have seen the whole question of listing problems in London, as well as the delay in the pension fund issue and helping to de-risk their investment in new technology—I have seen the new initiative from the British Business Bank, which is long overdue. Then we have the whole question of regulatory divergence. I disagree with those who, like the noble Lord, Lord Wei, seem to think that, if we stand out in terms of regulation, everything will be fine. Regulatory divergence is one of the real problems; it creates uncertainty. We need to align ourselves in so many ways. I could have given a whole speech on AI regulation, but I have desisted. However, needless to say, I am highly critical of the Government’s White Paper in this respect.
Finally, the whole area of diversity in STEM is absolutely crucial. In the wise words of the British Science Association, we must ensure that the opportunities and benefits are equitable in any future science strategy. There is not enough time to go into that, but I believe that that could be a real key to unlocking so much of our success. I do not have time to mention pure maths, but we also need to look at that.
There is much to do for the new department. I wish the Minister and his colleagues well, and I am sure that they will rise to the challenge. But we need to create the kind of consensus that the noble Lord, Lord Rees, advocated. That is another secret to success.
My Lords, like everyone else, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Brown of Cambridge, on the excellence of her committee’s report and the contribution made to putting that together by our clerks, the evidence given by witnesses and the sheer quantum and excellence of the contributions made—it is a really profound look at the Government’s science and technology programme and approach.
I am suffering a bit from imposter syndrome. Everyone else who spoke can speak wisely from their experience in the field of science, but I cannot. It is now some 50 years since I left school without a single science qualification—I was one of only two art students in my old secondary modern. Most of my colleagues who survived until the sixth form all went off to do maths and science subjects—and did them very well. But that does stop any of us having a view on government policy. This report should bring the Minister up sharp in terms of the Government’s response. The report was published nearly a year ago, as many have said, but time has not treated it badly; in fact, quite the reverse—it still seems very fresh and current to me on reading it.
As the committee noted, and as the Government acknowledge, science and technology are key to the UK’s future. If we get policy right, it will have untold benefits for our economy and our people right across the country. Research and development are essential to the development of a robust and thriving economy, and we certainly need a more effective strategy than we currently have for developing manufacturing and industry.
However, as we so often hear when we debate the output of your Lordships’ excellent committees, there are worries about a significant gap between the Government’s stated ambitions and their output. The report argues that, although individual sectoral strategies may successfully identify key challenges or contain eye-catching headlines and targets, there is, worryingly,
“little sense of how they fit into an overall plan”.
That is not the first time that this accusation has been levelled at this Administration, and, with all his talk of delivering on the priorities of the British people, it is disappointing that the Prime Minister and his ministerial team seem to struggle so much with timely, effective implementation—their great Achilles heel. With a seemingly never-ending flow of Prime Ministers, Chancellors and junior Ministers in recent years—there have been nine Science Ministers in five years, which is something of a record—the science and technology sectors have seen multiple relaunches and rebranding exercises, which hardly helps people to buy into a single core strategy.
As noble Lords have said, the Government published a Science and Technology Framework in March, outlining their goals and vision for science and technology for 2030. This follows the innovation strategy, an R&D road map, a science plan, an Office for Science and Technology Strategy, The Grand Challenges, half-baked industrial strategies, various sector deals, the establishment of the Advanced Research and Invention Agency, the first National Science and Technology Council, a new science and technology council and two reorganisations of UKRI. The organogram on page 21 of the report shows just how complex the Government’s decision-making and arrangements for R&D and science have become. There may well be merit in many of these steps—indeed, we have supported certain initiatives—but the sheer volume of announcements, rebrands and reorganisations points, in my view and that of many others, to a Government concerned with media headlines rather than day-to-day delivery.
If we look at the Government’s record, exactly what do we see? The number of women starting STEM apprenticeships was down in the most recent year-on-year data, which fed through to unfilled maths and physics vacancies in schools, as noble Lords referenced—these are exactly the subjects that the PM says he cares about. The UK is an international outlier in terms of investment: many UK-based tech and life sciences start-ups and scale-ups are struggling to get access to funds, leading some to relocate overseas. The geographical spread of investment is uneven, meaning a lack of support for businesses and jobs in places like the north-east, and far too much of the R&D budget is lost to error and fraud. The Government’s AI strategy is, seemingly, already out of date. While the Prime Minister seems to have woken up to the threats of AI in recent weeks, it is not clear that he has the appetite or clout to facilitate an international response. The lack of a clear cross-cutting industrial strategy means that the UK is losing the race on new green technologies and lagging behind on reskilling, and the Government’s ideological opposition to trade unions means a failure to embed new technologies with the support of our workforce.
We wholeheartedly support the ambition of making the UK a science and technology superpower, but there seems to be no clear strategy to secure that status. Many of the essential ingredients are in place: we are home to brilliant businesses and entrepreneurs, and we have a fantastic workforce and a track record of innovation—the Covid vaccine is one of the glowing examples.
We hope that the recent machinery of government changes—the Government are to be congratulated for having a Science Minister at Secretary of State level—will result in a new strategic focus. Ministers need to know and understand that we are not a million miles away from 2030 and, if the Government continue on their current course, there is little to suggest that we will break free from their decade of low growth.
I join others in wanting some answers to the questions about the Horizon Europe programme, which all noble Lords who have spoken this evening have referenced. We really need this to be resolved. It is a big mistake in the making, and if we do not grasp the opportunity to work with our partners and collaborate across boundaries and borders, we will miss the biggest trick in the R&D world.
I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, and others, who pointed to the clunky nature of the visa system. It is stopping and inhibiting scientists from across the world coming to our country. In the past, we have benefited greatly from that. It is a drag factor in terms of current policy.
On the Horizon programme, is there a plan B? Will one be published? Does it exist? Is it something we can rely on? There are many questions for the Minister to answer. It has been a fascinating debate, and I am sure that all noble Lords are looking forward to hearing the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I add my thanks to the noble Baroness for securing this important debate and indeed to the whole committee. On a personal level, as a still relatively new Minister, it is incredibly helpful to have set out in the report a not always positive but clear-eyed critique of where we are going in science policy. I am grateful for that and for the excellent contributions made by all noble Lords in today’s debate.
As a number of noble Lords mentioned, in February, the Prime Minister announced the creation of the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology—DSIT. It will promote a diverse research and innovation system, connecting discovery science to new companies, growth and jobs. I believe and hope that the creation of DSIT has addressed many of the challenges raised by the Select Committee in its report. It will provide strategic coherence in policy and strategy for science and tech. I recognise that there are different views on this, but it has been warmly welcomed by a large number of external stakeholders for putting science and tech at the heart of the Government’s agenda. Of course, all government departments undertake R&D to support their own policy objectives, but DSIT plays a unique role as steward of the UK R&D system across Whitehall and nationally, supporting world-class R&D and the underpinning investment through our universities and labs to enable a thriving R&D system.
On 6 March, the Prime Minister and the DSIT Secretary of State launched the science and technology framework—the Government’s plan to cement the UK’s place as a science and tech superpower by 2030. The framework is there to challenge every part of government to put the UK at the forefront of global science and technology. Action will focus on creating the right environment to develop critical technologies; investing in R&D, talent and skills; financing innovative science and tech companies; creating international opportunities; providing access to physical and digital infrastructure; and improving regulation and standards. We have already taken significant steps. Since the launch of the S&T framework we have announced £2.5 billion over the next decade for quantum tech; launched a £250 million tech missions fund for AI, quantum and engineering biology; launched the AI regulation White Paper; and announced a £1 billion strategy for the UK’s semiconductor sector.
In addition, we have been progressing work to define clear strategies for individual sectors, such as the AI action plan, the life sciences strategy and the national space strategy. These actions will help to ensure that the UK has the skills, talent and infrastructure to take a global lead in game-changing technologies and ground-breaking science.
While DSIT is taking the lead on the S&T framework, this is necessarily a cross-government effort. For example, use of government procurement to stimulate innovation is led from the Cabinet Office but needs to harness the big budgets, such as defence, to really have impact. By the end of 2023, we will publish an update setting out the progress that we have made and the further action that must be taken on our path to being a science and tech superpower by 2030.
As set out in the 2023 Spring Budget, the Government will turn their vision for UK enterprise into a reality by supporting growth in the sectors of the future. This includes the five critical technologies alongside life sciences and green technologies. Underpinning the Government’s long-term strategy and support for the sectors of the future is a commitment to increasing publicly funded and economy-wide R&D spending. The Government have recommitted to increasing public expenditure on R&D to £20 billion per annum by 2024-25. I take the points that were raised about needing to compete in a high-spending international environment. This represents a cash increase of around one-third and is the largest ever increase in public R&D spending over a spending review period.
I turn to the matter that I think almost everybody raised of international collaboration. We need to think globally if we are to make the most effective progress and tackle global challenges. We want to be the partner of choice for other leading science nations and to tap into the rising potential of emerging economies, ensuring that we are seen as a natural partner. For example, the UK in April signed a landmark memorandum of understanding on research and innovation with India, enabling quicker, deeper collaboration that will drive economic growth, create skilled jobs and improve lives in the UK, India and worldwide.
Attracting high-skilled international talent will bring long-term benefits to the whole of the UK. Science and Technology Framework presents a talent and skills vision for 2030 in which the UK has a large and varied base of skilled technical and entrepreneurial talent, able to respond quickly to the needs of industry, academia and government. This includes our immigration offer for talented researchers and innovators to come to the UK, including via the high potential route for recent graduates of top global universities and the scale-up route for individuals recruited by a UK-based high-growth scale-up company.
I turn to Horizon, which I know is a subject of great importance not just here but around the research community and the country. The Government are fully committed to science and research collaboration, including with our European counterparts. That is why we continue to be in discussions, which, contrary to the point raised, are in good faith, with our European counterparts on the UK’s involvement in Horizon Europe and hope that our negotiations will be successful. That is our strong preference, but we are clear that our participation must be fair for the UK’s researchers, businesses and taxpayers. We have set out our bold, ambitious alternative to Horizon Europe—Pioneer—if we are not able to secure association on fair and appropriate terms. Negotiations are ongoing, so I cannot comment on their content except to say that our priority remains to ensure that the UK’s R&D sector gets the maximum level of support to allow it to continue its ground-breaking research and collaboration with international partners.
I will now turn to some of the specific points raised. In response to the noble Baroness, Lady Brown, whose remarks I thank her for, I shall focus my comments on her three key questions. First, on Horizon, as I have noted, we are moving forward with the discussions and our involvement in EU science and research programmes. As several noble Lords have noted, delays over two years have caused serious and lasting damage to UK R&D. As I say, we hope sincerely that negotiations will be successful, but the guiding principle remains that participation has to be fair for UK researchers, businesses and taxpayers.
To provide the industry with certainty, we recognise that we must come to a resolution as quickly as possible. To be as clear as I can be, we want to associate with Horizon Europe, but it has to be on fair terms, and if we cannot reach fair and appropriate terms, we will launch Pioneer. Meanwhile we have established the Horizon guarantee to ensure that there is no loss in funding for the UK sector. This will be in place to cover all Horizon Europe calls that close on or before the end of June 2023. We are keeping the scope of the guarantee under review and will ensure that there is no gap in funding flowing to the sector.
Following the recent machinery of government changes, OSTS has now been integrated into the newly created Department for Science, Innovation and Technology. The National Science and Technology Council will remain a Cabinet committee following the recent changes, with the Prime Minister as chair.
On skills, which were also raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Brown, the Government welcome the committee’s inquiry on people and skills in STEM and have responded to the recommendations. The Government remain committed to taking forward the R&D people and culture strategy. The Science and Technology Framework prioritises action on talent and skills which looks at the wider system, supporting STEM skills across the economy.
In response to the noble Baroness, Lady Brown, my noble friend Lord Wei and the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, in relation to NSTC, there is a long-standing convention that the frequency, attendance list and minutes of Cabinet and its committees are not made public to protect the principle of collective agreement by Ministers.
On the science and tech framework, by the end of 2023, we will publish an update setting out the progress that we have made and the further action that must be taken on our path to being a science and technology superpower by 2030.
My noble friend Lord Holmes asked how the specific strategies fit into an overall coherent approach. The Government have set out their priorities through a suite of strategies, including the R&D road map, the UK innovation strategy and the people and culture strategy, which take a strategic or thematic overview to drive delivery of the Government’s priorities. We agree that policy coherence is essential for the success of the UK’s R&D mission.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Winston, for his comments and agree with the points he raised about the importance of support for researchers. UKRI is working to improve the experience of applying for funding through its Simpler and Better Funding programme.
In response to the question about ensuring good monitoring and evaluation data on the R&D that UKRI funds, information about research outputs is tracked by UKRI and other funders as a requirement. Monitoring and evaluation of the impact of funding is undertaken to understand that impact.
The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, asked how we track what other nations are doing. The FCDO’s science and innovation network based in embassies across the world provides valuable intelligence on the science and tech strategies of other nations which informs the UK’s approach and supports international dialogue. The noble Baronesses, Lady Walmsley and Lady Northover, asked whether scientific visa applications are subsidising other functions in the Home Office. I accept that the global race for science, research, technology and innovation is increasingly competitive, and the Government aim to make the UK the best place in the world for scientists, innovators and entrepreneurs to live and work. The Government are committed to ensuring that the UK’s immigration system supports growth and is clear and supportive for scientists, academics and entrepreneurs—
I am happy to write to the noble Baroness.
In response to how the Government are taking a lead on regulation without the downside of regulatory divergence, the Government recognise that technological innovation is fundamental to unlocking growth and are committed to growing the UK’s global reputation for regulatory best practice.
In response to the question from the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Rees, on how we will get more specialist teachers, specifically in mathematics, I support the Prime Minister’s aim to ensure that every young person has the skills that they need to succeed in life. Higher maths attainment will also help to grow the economy, creating better paid jobs and opportunity for all, which is why I also support his ambition to ensure that every young person studies some form of maths up to the age of 18.
In response to the noble Lord, Lord Patel, I thank him for his helpful comments on the importance of developing a global science partnership. I very much agree that collaboration is at the heart of being a science superpower. Last year we announced the first phase of the new International Science Partnerships Fund, underpinned by funding of £119 million over this spending review period.
My noble friend Lord Wei asked about building on the success of the Vaccine Taskforce. There will be ongoing lessons to learn from the Covid pandemic. We are demonstrating our ambition and delivering outcomes for patients through our healthcare missions. We have announced the chairs and details of the mental health and addiction missions as well as the cancer mission chair. These missions seek to replicate the success of the Vaccine Taskforce in areas where we face the greatest healthcare challenges, and illustrate the impact of industry-government collaboration.
In response to the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, who asked about ARIA’s progress, it has been established and is still in its early stage of development. Over the coming months, ARIA is recruiting its first cohort of programme directors, who will help to shape and inform the agency’s first set of research programmes. None the less, funding transformative research with long-term benefits will require patience, as prepared for in the agency’s design.
In response to the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, I strongly agree with him on the vital importance of long-term thinking and learning the lessons from history. This is why the S&T framework necessarily takes a long-term view of the strategic outcomes that we seek to deliver in the decades to come.
The noble Lord, Lord Rees, brought up the risks of precarity for research careers. Postgraduate researchers are key to the success of research groups, and we are looking at how to support them through a new deal for PGRs. UKRI has undertaken a sector consultation as a first phase of this long-term programme of work, and the results will be published soon, in 2023.
The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, raised the grant review of UKRI. DSIT is working closely with UKRI to implement the recommendations of the review while overseeing UKRI’s transformation programme to support improved governance and decision-making. The noble Baroness mentioned the recent changes to the ONS numbers on total R&D investment in the UK, as did the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth. It is good news that the ONS has improved its methodology for estimating R&D spend in the UK and that, as a result, we have moved above countries such as France in terms of R&D spend as a proportion of GDP. The Government are taking great strides in growing public R&D spend in the UK, with the Chancellor recommitting in the most recent Budget to growing public spend to £20 billion per annum by 2024-25.
A number of noble Lords have raised the recommendations of the recent Nurse review. The Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology outlined in her letter to the lead reviewer, Paul Nurse, that the landscape review would play a foundational role in delivering the UK Government’s vision and would set out a detailed response to the review’s recommendations in the coming months.
The noble Lord, Lord Mair, discussed industry engagement. The innovation strategy set out our plan for driving investment in UK R&D. We have increased funding for core Innovate UK programmes which are successful in crowding in private sector leverage, so that they reach £1.1 billion per year by 2024-25. This is over £300 million, or 66% more per year than in 2021-22, and will ensure that it can support business in bringing innovations to market.
In closing, I thank noble Lords for such a detailed, well-informed and wide-ranging debate. The newly created department will continue to address the challenges offered by the Select Committee and make clear progress to achieve our science and technology superpower ambitions, with a clear focus on delivery.
My Lords, may I say that I fully appreciate that the Minister is not personally involved in the negotiations over Horizon Europe? But in his remarks, he has referred to serious and lasting damage by non-association. Can he at least take back to the department the near-universal view in this debate that we should join and consider the fact that the Government specifically said after Brexit that this is the one thing that we want to join? Let us think of the consequences of our future co-operation with our European neighbours on a whole range of things if it turns out that we do not join what we said we wanted to.
My Lords, I thank all speakers in what has been a very interesting debate. I welcome and thank the noble Viscount, Lord Camrose, the relatively new Minister from a relatively new department, and agree that we celebrate the creation of DSIT. It does indeed address a number of the issues in our report—indeed, we rather hope that our report may have been a useful little prod to encourage the creation of the department. It was very good to hear the Minister say that we needed to challenge every part of government, and also good to hear that attracting overseas talent is so close to DSIT’s heart.
I hope that we are all impressed that the importance of this topic to Members of the House is indicated by how many people have been prepared to exchange a comfortable dinner and a chance to watch “Springwatch” for a four-minute speaking slot in the Moses Room. I hope that noble Lords get a comfortable dinner very shortly, after I have sat down.
The message that I hope the Minister will take back is that we are hearing of some good progress, but we must go further and faster—and we must go further and faster in terms of associating with Horizon. It was good to hear him recognise the damage that our lack of association has caused; the only fair and economically rationale conclusion—fair for UK researchers, fair for businesses and fair for taxpayers—is that we reassociate as quickly as possible.
We must go further and faster, too, in welcoming overseas talent. I hope that the meetings of the NSTC will be a forum in which Ministers from the new department and the Department for Education can bring home to their colleagues from the Home Office the importance of welcoming scientists and technologists from overseas. We heard from the Department for Education that they are looking at bringing in overseas teachers to cover our lack of teachers in areas such as physics and maths. They need to be supported by a Home Office that makes that an easy and welcoming process—which, we heard, is so clearly not the situation at the moment. I hope that the NSTC will be a forum where these issues can be debated, as the Minister has reminded us, in private. Perhaps some heads will be knocked together; we will be listening for the knocking.
We need to go further and faster in setting our targets for our spend on and investment in R&D. It is not good enough to chase the average level in the OECD: if we want to be a science superpower, we need to be at leading levels. We are seeing huge investments being made in the US, Europe and China, and we really need to up our game. We need to be doing more on stability and the long-term view.
As noble Lords have mentioned, we also need to go further and faster in thinking about how we improve diversity in STEM and see how that can help us with our STEM workforce shortage in many areas. I have to gently admonish my noble friend Lord Krebs for mentioning the outstanding work of Watson and Crick but failing to mention the outstanding work of Rosalind Franklin.
To conclude, it is a good start. We are pleased to see DSIT, which will have a have a big challenge. It will have the support of many people in this House in driving that challenge forward, but we need to go further and faster.
Committee adjourned at 8 pm.